The Philippines is trying to be more realistic about resisting the Chinese effort to take possession of the South China Sea. The Chinese effort is massive. For example, during the first three months of 2019 China deployed 900 navy, coast guard and naval militia ships around Pagasa Island to block access to fishing areas that Filipinos have been using for centuries. International law makes it clear that these are Filipino waters but the Chinese naval effort, and base constructed on Pagasa challenge Filipino ownership blatantly and often physically. Of all the nations involved with this Chinese aggression, the Philippines has the most to lose. In terms of land area, the 7,600 islands that comprise the Philippines amount to only 300,000 square kilometers (120,000 square miles) of land area. Compare this to China, with 9.6 million square kilometers of land. But according to international law (which China agrees with, at least officially), the Philippines controls (via its EEZ or Exclusive Economic Zone) water areas covering 2.26 million square kilometers. By the same standards, the Chinese EEZ waters comprises 877,000 square kilometers. But the new Chinese claims, not recognized by any international law or treaty, claims most of the South China Sea and expands the Chinese EEZ to 3.8 million square kilometers, mostly at the expense of the Philippines. Vietnam also suffers major losses.
The Philippines and Vietnam have the most to lose but all other Western Pacific countries feel threatened by growing Chinese naval power and aggressiveness. These nations are coming together in an anti-China coalition that may (if the Americans take an active role) persuade China to back down and play by the international rules it agreed to in the past. So far China is building bases and, according to one Filipino official, only “controls” seven percent of the South China Sea. China is not yet trying to strictly enforce its claims although it is increasingly vocal about other nations for “violating Chinese territorial waters.” This includes non-military force to prevent non-Chinese (especially Filipino) fishing boats from operating in traditional (and legally Filipino) fishing grounds. President Duterte sought to negotiate a deal with China that would compensate the Philippines for lost access to their fishing areas. That was blocked by Filipinos invoking the constitution and its prohibitions against officials negotiating away those rights without assent of the people (the national legislature).
Chinese claims have no standing when it comes to existing international law and agreements. Yet China is slowly seeking control over the entire South China Sea and is willing to spend as much time as it requires to achieve recognition as the undisputed owner of the South China Sea. This is the ancient “death of a thousand cuts” strategy China has used for centuries and is being blatantly applied, for the first time, on vast maritime areas. The fishing resources alone are enormously valuable and, based on past Chinese performance, likely to be exploited to the point where there are not many fish left to catch. There is also offshore oil and gas and much else on the bottom of the shallow waters of the South China Sea. Initially, the Philippines tried to accommodate China but the feeling, both popular and among the leadership, is that the Chinese threat will not be tempered by accommodation. China wants it all and the only question now is will China risk war over their territorial claims.
The Philippines are also resisting Chinese aggression inside the Philippines as well. Chinese investments in the Philippines brings with it a lot of legal, and illegal, Chinese workers. The Philippines has been catching a growing number of these Chinese operating as spies. The most blatant example is the Chinese gangsters who set up illegal gambling operations near army bases and then use the gambling debts many soldiers accumulate to coerce the soldiers to spy for China. When presented with the evidence China denies any involvement and said it would investigate Filipino workers in China to discover how many of them were spying for the Philippines. There is no history of the Philippines using expatriate workers as spies while the Chinese use of this practice is the most active in the history of espionage. China denies that but the growing number of Chinese in the West getting caught and convicted of such espionage says otherwise.
August 17, 2019: In the south (Zamboanga city) the army successfully completed a series of meetings between rival clans that had been fighting since the 1970s over land disputes.
August 16, 2019: In West Africa, off the coast of Cameroon, local pirates attacked a ship and in addition to looting it of portable valuables kidnapped nine Filipino sailors, along with eight from other countries. The pirates will attempt to obtain a ransom.
August 14, 2019: In the south (Tawi-Tawi province), the navy reported that Chinese warships had been spotted offshore five times during July. In some cases the Chinese ships were passing through coastal waters, usually Sibutu Strait, exercising the right of “innocent passage” but deviating from the shortest route (international law says should be used) and coming closer to the Filipino coast than is normal or proper. The Chinese have done the same thing three times so far in August. Earlier the navy reported a similar problem off one of the main islands (Palawan) where, in June, four Chinese military vessels passed close to Palawan in Filipino waters where they are obliged to respond to hails from Filipino authorities. The Chinese ships ignored the hails and proceeded as if they were in international, or Chinese, waters. The navy noted that other foreign warships, when travelling these same routes respond to Filipino hails, ask permission or notify the Philippines of their planned innocent passage through Filipino waters. When asked about this behavior by their warships, China refuses to answer or denies these events even took place.
August 12, 2019: In the south (Sulu province), Abu Sayyaf gunmen ambushed two soldiers on a road, killing them both and also killing a nearby child and wounding another one.
August 10, 2019: Police report that two Sri Lankans, who entered the Philippines last November and earlier this year, have been linked to an Islamic terrorist group uncovered in Sri Lanka after a number of suicide bombing there in April that left over 250 dead. As Sri Lanka uncovered names of the local Islamic terrorists other countries in the regions were asked if any of the Sri Lankan suspects were or had ever been in those other nations. The two Sri Lankan Islamic terrorists are now suspected of involvement with recent attacks in the Philippines. Using these Islamic terrorist watch lists several other foreign Islamic terrorists have been identified as entering the Philippines before it was known they were involved with Islamic terror activities. Most of these foreign Islamic terrorists join the Filipino ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) franchise, which is apparently organizing and sometimes financing the movement of Islamic terrorists to the Philippines.
August 8, 2019: In the south (Negros Oriental), a clash between soldiers and NPA rebels left three NPA men and one soldier dead.
August 7, 2019: The Philippines put a former South Korean Po Hang-class corvette into service as BRP Conrado Yap. The South Korean ship is equipped to hunt submarines and that restores a capability that the Philippines has lacked for years. The corvette was a gift to the Philippines to provide more capability to oppose Chinese aggression in the South China Sea.
July 30, 2019: In the south (Misamis Oriental province), soldiers found and captured an NPA camp in a rural area outside the city of Cagayan de Oro. Twenty NPA members were using the camp and the leftist rebels suffered casualties as they hastily fled. Soldiers followed blood trails indicating that some of the fleeing rebels were wounded. The NPA tends to take its dead with it when possible but the speed of the fleeing NPA indicated that some were walking wounded and that the NPA men were carrying little with them as they evaded the pursuing troops.
July 28, 2019: In the south (Negros Oriental province), soldiers and police are scrambling to halt a growing number of NPA murders committed in the last two weeks. The NPA has apparently embarked on a major operation to terrorize local politicians into cooperating with them. So far at least 20 local officials have been killed, usually NPA death squads that attack the homes of politicians, kill the officials and often yell “long live the NPA” as they leave. This year the NPA has been suffering a massive decline in popular and communist party support. Increasingly most NPA units must depend on extortion, theft and other criminal activity to survive. This is causing much anger and protest in areas where the NPA still operates “for the good of the people.” Yet the NPA can no longer do much political work when their very survival is at risk. The government is trying, without much success, to negotiate a peace deal with the NPA. The leadership, as well as the commanders of various armed factions, are split on a peace agreement and most are continuing to operate (fighting and stealing). The NPA, to most Filipinos, have become bandits with a veneer of communist ideology to justify their crimes. The banditry option is not working well enough to assure the long-term survival of the organization. This can also be seen when factions run short of money. Those actions begin to suffer from desertions. The army will grant amnesty to NPA members who surrender, especially if they bring their weapons and some useful information with them. Information on where NPA camps or weapons storage sites are considered useful and the fact that more NPA camps are being attacked and weapons storage sites seized indicates that the NPA is losing secrets as well as people and popular support. Some NPA leaders feel this is all a temporary setback and that a peace deal would enable a revitalized Philippines Communist Party to become a major political power. These delusions make negotiating a peace deal more difficult. Meanwhile, the NPA has become a major source of criminal (as opposed to Islamic terrorist) activity in the country. Most of the NPA senior leadership live in Europe and are considered somewhat out of touch with the reality of what the NPA has become in the Philippines.
July 27, 2019: In the south (Maguindanao province), soldiers clashed with a large group of ISIL gunmen and killed twelve and wounded three others. This came at the end of a three-day operation to find and eliminate an ISIL-like group known locally as DITG (Dawlah Islamiyah Torayfie Group) that was in the areas. The DITG men sought to evade the operation and three days ago a soldier was killed as the search got started. DITG was known to be planning bombing attacks in the south and this operation disrupted those plans. There are still dozens of DITG members who escaped the army sweep and these Islamic terrorists will have to regroup and get organized to move forward with their planned attacks. DITG was never officially acknowledged by ISIL and is composed of the survivors of the Maute Group, that was largely wiped out in 2017 when they tried to take over the southern city of Marawi. That failed in a spectacular fashion, which is one reason ISIL does not want to be associated with this group.
July 25, 2019: In the south (Misamis Oriental province), soldiers clashed with NPA rebels leaving one soldier dead and others wounded. The dead soldier once (2004-6) belonged to the NPA but accepted an amnesty, joined a local civilian defense group and in 2011 joined the army.
Police and army raids in the south (Zamboanga) and the north (Manila) led to the capture of three Abu Sayyaf Islamic terrorists involved in planning and carrying out bomb attacks. Weapons and bomb-making equipment were also seized.