President Duterte’s “war on drugs” continues to be popular with most Filipinos despite foreign and local protests over the “shoot first” tactics employed. Recent surveys have shown fewer Filipinos are victims of crime in general and most attribute this to the anti-drug operations. Drugs are still a problem and the imports of heroin and meth from Burma (the Golden Triangle) and cocaine from South America continue, as do a growing number of synthetic drugs from China. The smugglers and dealers are now a lot more discreet and harder for the police, and even many potential customers, to find. In the last few years, hundreds of corrupt cops and other officials have been identified and prosecuted or simply expelled from their jobs if there was not enough evidence for prosecution. Many corrupt senior officials were identified and punished.
Getting drugs into the country has become more difficult and expensive because so many smuggling networks have been destroyed. There are fewer corrupt customs and coast guard personnel on the drug gang payrolls. The drug gangs have adapted but for now the gangsters are on the defensive. The anti-drug effort now spends more time seeking to cut off supply, although that has led to more drug production in the Philippines. Meth and synthetic drugs can be manufactured locally and the Chinese dominated drug smuggling operations are apparently pushing the “local” solution. Corruption, in general, is still a national problem and that enables the drug gangs to survive as smaller and more nimble organizations.
In the south, mainly the islands of Samar and Negros, there are the last major concentrations of NPA forces. The leftist rebels are seeking to establish secure base areas there and additional army units have been sent to prevent that. In mid-2019 Negros Oriental province experienced a major NPA intimidation campaign. This involved a growing number of NPA murders committed to terrorizing local politicians into cooperating with them. Over two dozen local officials were killed, usually by NPA death squads that attacked the homes of politicians, killed the officials and often yelled “long live the NPA” as they left. The NPA is getting desperate and 2019 has been notable because 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 popular resistance in areas where the NPA still operates “for the good of the people.”
Recently it was discovered that NPA was getting paid to supply security for marijuana growing operations down south (in South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani and Davao del Sur provinces). The leftist gunmen could keep local civilians and criminals away from the plants but could not survive determined probes by the army, who discovered and took down several rural “plantations.” There are apparently more such plantations in this vast rural area and the NPA is apparently still on the payroll.
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 long-term survival. This can also be seen when factions run short of money. Those factions 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.
November 14, 2019: In the south (Lanao del Norte province), two NPA members were arrested after a brief gun battle with security forces. Police had been alerted by a civilian that four NPA men were nearby and the four were cornered by police and soldiers. Two escaped and the other two surrendered.
November 11, 2019: In the south (Eastern Samar province), soldiers responding to a call from villagers being extorted by NPA rebels, were ambushed. Six soldiers were killed and twenty wounded, mainly by six roadside bombs that had been set up on the road in. The communist rebels apparently anticipated that at least one of the villagers would alert the army and installed the bombs and some gunmen to delay troops. There were about fifty of the communist gunmen involved and only one was killed and several wounded as they got away with some of the supplies they were seeking. The NPA has adapted to the hostility of the rural population. Villagers are increasingly the victims of marauding leftist rebels, who are now seen as political bandits rather than potential liberators. The army now has to adapt to this new rebel tactic, which is particularly effective in rural areas where roads are few and the rebels can set up their ambush before carrying out the extortion or outright looting. Sometimes the rebels will disrupt cell phone service but that deprives them of communications as well.
Overall cell phones have been a major setback for Islamic terrorists and rebels who operate in rural areas and rely on intimidating civilians to maintain a source of supplies and information from those civilians. Cell phones enable the security forces to be quickly alerted and often respond in time to inflict serious damage on the outlaws. These ambush tactics have drawbacks because it means the raiding and looting teams have to be larger and that means the rebels are easier to track. The army has more and more airpower (UAVs, helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft) available and these are often very effective in tracking the fleeing rebels to their camps, which can then be attacked by air, land and even artillery. Overall more tech has been a net gain for the security forces but it does force everyone to constantly adapt.
November 9, 2019: In the south (Maguindanao province), an army patrol clashed with some armed BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters) Islamic terrorists. Two BIFF gunmen were killed and at least three wounded as they fled the area. One soldier was killed and two wounded during the clash. Troops pursued the fleeing Islamic terrorists.
November 5, 2019: In the south (Sulu province), three Islamic terrorists, two of them suicide bombers, were intercepted and killed before they could reach the provincial capital and carry out their attacks. The two bombers were Egyptians while the escort was a Filipino member of Abu Sayyaf. Police received information that an attack was planned in the capital and set up roadblocks to intercept the attackers who usually come in from rural hideouts to carry out attacks in towns and cities. The three had two explosive vests with them but had not yet put them on. The three tried to shoot their way past the checkpoint and failed. The two bombers were the wife and son of an Egyptian man who had carried out a suicide bombing attack in early September. The police expected a spike in Islamic terrorist attacks as a reaction to the recent killing of ISIL leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi in Syria during a raid by U.S. commandos.
Abu Sayyaf has been hosting foreign ISIL members in Sulu and Basilan, two areas where Abu Sayyaf is still able to operate. The military still has thousands of soldiers and marines in those areas seeking to find and destroy the remaining rural Abu Sayyaf base camps. In those camps Abu Sayyaf is also holding kidnapping victims and trying to obtain a ransom. Many of the kidnap victims have been rescued by the security forces or provided opportunities to escape when their captors are distracted during clashes with soldiers or marines. To the north (Maguindanao province) BIFF, a smaller Islamic terrorist group, also provides hideouts for some foreign ISIL members. BIFF is also under pressure from the constant military and police patrols and aerial surveillance.
ISIL has hoped to establish a new base area in the Philippines after 2017, when they lost control of the parts of Syria and Iraq ISIL had ruled since 2014 as the “caliphate.” Efforts to set up a new base area in Libya failed and the ISIL situation in the Philippines is not much better and getting worse.
November 4, 2019: In Thailand, at an ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) meeting the U.S. accused China of using intimidation to conquer and take control of the South China Sea. Most ASEAN members agree with this assessment but China responded by demanding that outsiders (like the United States) do not interfere with a local issue. China has put a lot of economic and diplomatic pressure on ASEAN members to either back China or not openly oppose Chinese efforts to take possession of the South China Sea.
Founded in 1967 by Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, ASEAN has since then expanded to include Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. Most of these nations oppose China's violation of many members EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone, waters 380 kilometers from the coast) in the South China Sea. China long had a staunch (and paid for) ally in ASEAN (Cambodia) who blocked all attempts to unify and oppose China. Now China has more allies in ASEAN and one less international critic to worry about.
October 26, 2019: In the south (Northern Samar), an airstrike destroyed a rural camp used by a group of about fifty NPA rebels. Many of the leftist rebels survived the bombs but scattered from their ruined camp as ground troops approached.
October 23, 2019: In the south (North Cotabato province), police and soldiers raided a house believed used by BIFF Islamic terrorists. There were seven armed BIFF members there and all died during the ensuing gun battle.