A major reason the peace talks with Islamic separatists (MILF) and leftist rebels (NPA) have been so successful is the continuing success of military and police efforts to defeat the thousands of gunmen these groups use to terrorize and raise money. Since the start of 2015 year army intelligence believes the NPAs armed strength has been reduced 11 percent (to under 2,900). Renegade MILF faction BIFF has lost over 60 percent of its strength in the same period and now has fewer than 200 gunmen. Some of those are believed to be more involved with banditry and clan wars than trying to destroy the peace deal with MILF. Islamic terrorists Abu Sayyaf has lost about 20 percent of the 400 armed members it had in January. Aby Sayyaf is seen as a bigger problem than NPA because these Islamic terrorists continue to provide sanctuary for foreign Islamic terrorists from Malaysia and Indonesia. Some of these foreigners have special skills, like bomb making, which makes them, and Abu Sayyaf, even more dangerous. MILF has made peace and the disarmament process has begun. With all this success, the armed forces are spending more money and effort on the growing Chinese threat.
The Philippines is sending a large team of lawyers and experts to the Netherlands for the UN tribunal that will hear Filipino charges that China is acting illegally in the South China Sea. It is expected that the Philippines will win this case and the Chinese apparently believe that as well as they are not participating in the tribunal and insist they will ignore any adverse decision.
China recently announced that it has largely completed its seven island building projects in the South China Sea. This announcement was believed, by many Filipinos, to be an effort to reduce international criticism of this island building. China did not consider it newsworthy that it was now proceeding with construction of air strips and other military facilities on these new islands. China insists that the island and base building is legal despite protests from the United States and nations bordering the South China Sea.
China is apparently putting its aggressive territorial claims against India on hold, the better to concentrate on the South China Sea. This has led to Japan and the Philippines working out details of a plan to have the Japanese navy and air force to use Filipino military bases. India is in touch with the nervous nations that border the South China Sea and wants to cooperate and coordinate in efforts to halt the Chinese aggression. In response China has offered to resume negotiations with the Philippines over the South China Sea disputes. China said it was willing to allow the Philippines to share the new facilities (on newly created islands) China has built. This makes it clear that any peace talks begin with the understanding that China owns the South China Sea. That makes any further talks difficult to justify.
The U.S. Navy continues its patrols of disputed areas in the South China Sea, very visibly ignoring the increasingly emphatic Chinese demands that the American warships and aircraft obey instructions from Chinese officials in the area. China has also been using jamming and other electronic countermeasures against American aircraft “trespassing” in the area. These American efforts seem (especially to the Chinese) as a response to the Philippines, Japan and Vietnam encouraging the United States to follow through with plans to have American aircraft and warships regularly challenge parts of the South China Sea and challenge Chinese claims. Japan is also flying military aircraft through this disputed air space.
None of China’s neighbors believe legal action will make China halt its continuing moves in the South China Sea. China is now attempting to regulate how other countries can use it (for fishing, oil exploration, or even transit via sea or air). Only American military power can provide an obstacle the Chinese cannot just brush aside, at least not without risk of escalation and violent encounters. It has long been American policy to actively oppose the sort of claims China is making. So far American opposition to China has been very restrained and not persuaded the Chinese to slow down.
June 30, 2015: In the south (Maguindanao Province) a policeman was killed during an encounter with BIFF rebels. BIFF leaders have admitted that their gunmen are attacking police patrols on certain roads to encourage the police to stay away.
June 27, 2015: In the south (Davao City) a senior NPA leader and a bodyguard were killed by a special operations (Scout Ranger) team. Army intel has been making a special effort to locate NPA leaders and then capture or kill them. This seems to speed up peace negotiations as well as disrupting NPA operations in general.
June 23, 2015: In the south (Basilan) Abu Sayyaf used a roadside bomb to kill two soldiers and wound two others.
June 22, 2015: In the south (Maguindanao Province) two soldiers, helping to build a school, were killed by a group of BIFF rebels. BIFF is into Islamic radicalism, meaning secular education is discouraged. Most Filipino Moslems support secular education and that’s one reason why BIFF has not gathered much popular support in the Moslem south.
June 20, 2015: In the south (Talabaan) security forces captured two Abu Sayyaf members, one of them with bomb components in his home, in a Christian neighborhood.
June 17, 2015: In the south (Basilan) special operations troops found and disabled an Abu Sayyaf bomb intended to destroy a vital water pipeline. This was the second Abu Sayyaf attempt to disrupt water supplies on Basilan. The earlier (May) effort disrupted water supplies to thousands of civilians for five days.
June 14, 2015: In the south (Davao) an army patrol clashed with some NPA gunmen and three rebels were killed while the rest fled into the pre-dawn murk. Troops recovered weapons and two bombs.
June 11, 2015: In the south (Sulu) two clashes with soldiers left one Islamic terrorist dead and a soldier wounded. Troops recovered two motorcycles, weapons and documents.
June 9, 2015: In the north (Pampanga province) police clashed with gunmen from an NPA faction (the RHB) and killed five of them. The RHB broke away from the NPA in the late 1990s and is believed to have devolved into a purely criminal organization with fewer than a hundred armed members.