Philippines: Choose Your Poison

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July 15, 2020: Despite a nationwide quarantine that was lifted in early June, the government is being pressured by health experts to revive the nationwide lockdown that first took effect in early April. This did seem to halt the spread of the virus and make it easier to treat those who had it, or thought they did. The virus panic has brought out a lot of patients who are victims of anxiety, not covid19.

The quarantine has been lifted in rural areas where there have been far fewer covid19 cases. But now there are calls to keep the lockdown in cities. The problem is that this shuts down the economy and the government has not got the resources to feed and care for so many urban Filipinos who are confined to their homes. Many of the confined are going hungry and not willing to quietly starve to death. People are defying the lockdown to survive all manner of privation.

Covid19 cases in the Philippines are concentrated in cities, especially the capital Manila. Overall, the Philippines has suffered fifteen covid19 (coronavirus) deaths per million population so far, which is up from nine per million five weeks ago. Confirmed cases per million have gone from 200 to 525 known cases of the virus per million people. In early April the government ordered a nationwide lockdown to halt the spread of the virus and make it easier to treat those who have it. Many Filipinos do the simple math and realize that the efforts to halt the spread of the virus are more dangerous than the virus itself.

Neighbors Malaysia currently has had 270 cases and four deaths per million, Singapore has 7,968 confirmed cases per million and five deaths per million while Indonesia has 287 cases per million and 14 deaths per million. The Philippines has an advantage because it has no land borders with any other nation. The Philippines consists of 7,600 islands, which further limits the spread of the virus. The number of confirmed cases is more a matter of how many people could be tested. An accurate count of covid19 deaths depends on the ability to test those who die, or are dying from covid19. This coronavirus has symptoms similar to many other existing diseases and the breathing problems that often kill covid19 victims are similar to those dying from pneumonia. This is a common cause of death for the elderly or those already weakened by other diseases. These comprise a disproportionate number of known covid19 fatalities. The number of confirmed cases is just that, people who have been tested and found to be, or has been infected. It’s been known from the beginning (thanks to being able to test everyone on cruise ships and warships) that 80 percent of the population suffers no ill effects from the virus and half those who do get it feel no ill effects. The death rate for covid19 is low compared to the killer epidemics of the past (smallpox, typhoid, and so on) but higher than most strains of influenzas that appear each year. Scary but not that scary.

July 13, 2020: The U.S. took a stronger stand against Chinese aggression in the South China Sea by declaring Chinese claims to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea are completely unlawful, as is its campaign of bullying to control these resources. In 2016 an international court ruled against China and stated that occupying uninhabitable rocks and building artificial islands did not confer an EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone). Ownership of “rocks” gets you, at best 22 kilometers of territorial waters from the edge of each rock rather than 360 kilometers for EEZ rights. Before this change, the U.S. merely called for China to comply with the court ruling, something China said it would not do even before the court completed its deliberations. The Americans did continue to carry out aerial and naval FONOP (freedom of navigation operations) to assert the right of innocent passage. This annoyed the Chinese, who claimed most of the South China Sea was under Chinese control and no foreign ship or aircraft could enter without permission.

The FONOPS will continue, and probably become more frequent. More importantly, the U.S. will now actively oppose all illegal Chinese claims that the 2016 court ruling agreed were invalid and not legally enforceable by China. The U.S. has already increased aerial reconnaissance over the South China Sea, which not only monitors what the Chinese are doing but also documents ongoing Chinese violations of international law.

Before this change in American policy, China was confident it could bully the nations bordering the South China Sea that were suffering from the Chinese aggression. That bullying will be more difficult if the victims can call on the Americans for backup. Japan is now more confident in continuing its support for the South China Sea victims.

July 9, 2020: In the south (Maguindanao province), a police patrol was ambushed with a roadside bomb and gunfire. A policeman and civilian were killed, four policemen were founded and the attackers got away.

July 7, 2020: In the north (Manila), a senior prosecutor was shot to death as he drove to work. The war on drugs and corruption since 2016 has led to more attacks on judges, prosecutors and lawyers with about fifty of these legal personnel killed so far. The cause is usually intimidation and many of the dead were accompanied by bodyguards.

July 6, 2020: In the south (Samar Island), an NPA ambush killed one soldier and wounded another.

July 1, 2020: During the first half of 2020 at least 28 Abu Sayyaf Islamic terrorists were killed. More may have died from wounds or from artillery or airstrikes. Another 29 Abu Sayyaf men surrendered.

June 29, 2020: In the south (Sulu province), four army intel specialists were killed by four policemen under mysterious circumstances. The four policemen have been disarmed and confined until the investigation can be completed. There have been clashes between police and soldiers before. Often these incidents are the result of poor communication or coordination. In some cases, the cause is dirty cops confronted by soldiers. After two weeks the police were found to have shot the soldiers multiple times, mainly in the back. Prosecutors plan to accuse the policemen of killing the soldiers. The police initially claimed that they fired in self-defense.

June 26, 2020: In the north (Manila), police raided what was believed to be an Abu Sayyaf hideout and were met with armed resistance. The two Abu Sayyaf in the hideout were killed along with two others who were unidentified so far. The two dead terrorists also had links to ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant).

June 22, 2020: In the south (Sulu Province), an army patrol searching for Abu Sayyaf camps encountered a large number of armed Abu Sayyaf and a gun battle ensued. The Islamic terrorists withdrew with their dead and wounded but not before killing one soldier and wounding nine others. It is believed that there are fewer than 500 Abu Sayyaf members left and most are living in rural camps. Find the camps and you make it more difficult for the Abu Sayyaf who were there to operate and some will surrender. Some camps hold kidnap victims held for ransom while other camps contain bomb-building workshops. It is believed that there are at least a dozen such camps left. Shut down the camps and you shut down Abu Sayyaf.

June 18, 2020: In the south (Zamboanga City), police arrested a wanted Abu Sayyaf bomb builder who was responsible for several notorious attacks.

June 16, 2020: In the south (Negros Oriental province) soldiers and police, acting on a tip, raided a house in a rural village and killed five NPA rebels. A year ago, NPA undertook a major operation in this area to terrorize local politicians into cooperating with them. Dozens of local officials were killed or wounded, usually by NPA death squads that attacked the homes of politicians, tried, and often succeeded in killing the officials and then yelling “long live the NPA” as they left. The 2019 intimidation effort failed but was deemed necessary because 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 long-term survival. 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 the location of NPA camps or weapons storage sites is 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.

Because of all this, the government considers the NPA the main terrorist threat in the country.

June 13, 2020: In the south (Sulu Province), Abu Sayyaf attacked a police station in a rural town and killed two policemen and wounded two others. The attack was repulsed and it was unclear if Abu Sayyaf suffered any casualties.

 

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