Philippines: Coping With Threats Old And New



February 18, 2022: In the south, across the Sulu Sea, Malaysia, especially its Sabah province has become a new refuge for Filipino Abu Sayyaf Islamic terrorists seeking an alternative base to their native Sulu province. Currently Abu Sayyaf only has a few hundred 400 active members and are short of cash, local support and new recruits. Kidnapping used to be a good source of cash, especially if foreigners could be taken. That has become more difficult and riskier because the military has increased the number and effectiveness of its land and naval patrols. That’s one reason for the move across the Sulu Sea, where Malaysian security forces stay in contact with their Filipino counterparts to locate and eliminate remaining Abu Sayyaf groups. Those now in Malaysia are not very active at all. They have few local supporters and consider Malaysia a refuge rather than an operating base for local attacks.

February 15, 2022: National police revealed that they had uncovered and disrupted a foreign Islamic terrorist plot to carry out attacks in the Philippines. This effort has been underway since 2017 by Hamas, a Palestinian Islamic terror group that is backed by and often works for Iran. The police heard rumors of this plot and eventually found a Filipino who had detained information about the Hamas operation, but had backed away from it because Hamas seemed more interested in killing Filipino or foreign Jews in the Philippines as well as instigating some local support for Iran and Hamas by offering to pay local Moslems to do it. The few Filipino Islamic terrorists consider this sort of thing foreign interference, not assistance. Hamas was seeking local mercenaries while pretending to support Filipino Islamic radicals.

February 14, 2022: The United States completed and turned over to the government a $5 million assault boat facility for the Filipino marine corps to dock these special boats. The facility includes fully equipped workshops for maintaining and repairing the boats.

February 12, 2022: In the south (Maguindanao province) one of the few BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters) leaders still active was killed, along with eight of his followers, when their vehicles were ambushed by men from another BIFF faction. There have been few violent encounters with BIFF forces in the six months and it is rare for two BIFF factions to attack each other. Since 2021 most of the BIFF losses have been from BIFF gunmen surrendering. BIFF personnel who surrender or turn themselves in with their weapons and tell interrogators what they know can get amnesty. There are less than a hundred BIFF members left and most are veterans, which explains how they have remained active for so long. Because of their small numbers, BIFF has not been able to carry out any attacks lately. Just surviving has become a full-time BIFF activity. The two BIFF factions involved in today’s clash are from different clans and violent feuds between clans has been common in the Moslem south for centuries. The commanders of the two clans are not only from different clans but also have grudges against each other.

February 10, 2022: In the south (Surigao del Sur province) several dozen NPA gunmen set up a roadblock on a main road at about 7 AM and maintained it for 20 minutes until a vehicle came along. They stopped the truck and made sure he knew who they were and then let it go and abandoned the roadblock. A little later another group of NPA entered and ransacked a local politician’s home. This was near where the roadblock appeared and apparently part of a less-violent (than usual) NPA effort to influence the May elections.

In the north (Cavite Naval Base), the U.S. turned over four Cessna 172 single-engine trainer aircraft to the Filipino navy. These aircraft will be used to train new navy pilots as well as provide inexpensive flights for existing pilots seeking to maintain their skill. Also provided were spare parts and maintenance equipment as well as training in the U.S. for 24 Filipino sailors who maintain aircraft.

February 2, 2022: In the south ( Lanao del Sur province) soldiers encountered a group of armed Islamic terrorist rebels and killed two of them. The dead were identified as members of the Maute Group, which now prefers to be called DITG (Dawlah Islamiyah Torayfie Group). Members of this group tend to fight to the death rather than surrender. Remnants of several ISIL factions have been trying to survive in this area since 2017. DITG has few personnel left and there have been a few DITG bombings since 2019, usually against military convoys or camps. In mid-2021 one the last known DITG bomb-builders was killed and the army found evidence that there were more armed DITG members around than previously believed. On the plus side all or most of them had coalesced into one group led by a known DITG leader. This faction was first identified and encountered in 2021 and several times since then. The troops are trying to force the Islamic terrorists into a fight, or a surrender. DITG survived four years of constant army patrols and civilians who phone in tips as well as those who provide just “terrorists have been here” messages. While there is cell phone coverage in 95 percent of the populated areas there are still many rural areas where people own cell phones but have to travel to a town or city to use them. Desperate Islamic terrorists will destroy existing cell towers in areas where they are being pursued. What has hurt the Islamic terrorists most is that more rural Moslems openly provide information and the security forces have lists of towns and villages where there are informants. The names of informants are often not provided but local soldiers and police know that just asking local leaders or merchants will get them to someone who has timely information to share. DITG has been trying to regroup, rebuild and move forward with more devastating attacks. Their attacks since 2019 caused little damage and few casualties. DITG was never officially acknowledged by ISIL and is composed of the survivors of the Maute Group, which was largely wiped out in 2017 when they tried to take over the nearby city of Marawi. That failed in a spectacular fashion, which is one reason ISIL does not want to be associated with this group.

While the Islamic terrorists don’t surrender much, the communist NPA rebels do and over twenty have done so this year.

February 1, 2022: In the south (Sulu province) solders encountered some Abu Sayyaf Islamic terrorists and one of the Abu Sayyaf men was killed along with one soldier. Two other soldiers were wounded. Several other Abu Sayyaf men fled.

January 31, 2022 : In the south (South Cotabato province) soldiers encountered two armed members of DITG and killed them.

January 25, 2022: In the south (Bukidnon province) troops encountered and killed a second senior NPA (New People’s Army) leader, the first was killed in a similar incident four days ago. NPA has been losing a lot of senior leaders in the last year, some of them with over fifty years’ NPA experience. Some are located because of tips from local civilians. Bukidnon province has been one of the few remaining NPA strongholds because of the veteran NPA leaders present and many of those veterans are getting killed, captured or even surrendering. Most of the political violence in the Philippines since World War II has come from communists, who had been around but not very active before World War II. The communists became a major part of the armed opposition fighting the brutal 1942-45 Japanese occupation. After independence in 1946 leftist rebels continued fighting, trying to establish a communist dictatorship. That proved difficult to do. A major reorganization took place in the 1960s, resulting in the creation of the NPA in 1969. The new communist rebel organization adopted the Chinese “Maoist” long term strategy. That was not very successful despite lots of economic and social problems they could promise to fix if they were in charge. Enthusiasm for a "communist solution" went sharply downhill after the collapse of the Soviet Union and its East European communist allies between 1989 and 1991. That massive failure of communist states left the NPA much weaker ideologically and vulnerable to subsequent amnesty programs. A decade ago, NPA leaders admitted that they had only a small fraction of their peak (in the 1980s) strength of 26,000 armed members. There were some serious attempts to reverse the decline in popularity. NPA gunmen were instructed to behave better around civilians and the NPA were found giving some civilians, especially health or aid workers, cash compensation of a few hundred dollars each for wounds received during NPA attacks on soldiers or police. The government increased its efforts to provide medical care for such victims of NPA violence, the NPA tried to compete and found they couldn’t afford it.

Information on the location of NPA camps, weapons storage sites or covert supporters is increasingly obtained from local civilians or NPA members that surrendered. Because of that more NPA camps are being attacked, weapons storage sites seized and key supporters arrested or killed, even in Bukidnon province.

January 24, 2022: The Philippines have discovered that there are other Chinese threats in the region. Commercial satellite photos show Chinese dredging ships at work in a Cambodian port that is apparently going to be a naval base for China. In November 2021 Chinese leader Xi Jinping clashed with several other national leaders at a special virtual (teleconference) China-ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) meeting. This event was to commemorate three decades of Chinese relationships with the association members. The Philippines accused China of using intimidation to conquer and take control of the South China Sea. Specifically, the Filipino leader accused Chinese coast guard vessels of using water cannons to prevent Filipino ships from resupplying the small military garrison on a grounded LST at Second Thomas Reef. Xi responded that the coast guard vessels were protecting Chinese territory. Xi ignored international treaties and a 2016 ruling by an international tribunal that the Chinese claims were false.

Most ASEAN members agree with the Philippines and the 2016 court ruling 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 claims in the South China Sea. China long had a staunch (and paid for) Cambodian ally in ASEAN. Cambodia blocks attempts to unify and oppose China. XI also clashed with other ASEAN leaders over the absence of Myanmar at this meeting. That was because China and ASEAN disagree over the legitimacy of the new Myanmar military government, which forced out elected leaders in early 2021 because those officials wanted to reduce the power of the military and Chinese interests inside Myanmar. Cambodia is not as staunch ally as China would like and the failure to get ASEAN to support the new Myanmar government was a very public rebuke of China for its use of outlaw tactics.

January 20, 2022: The navy announced that it would receive a second South Korean Pohang-class corvette by the end of the year. The first one was delivered in 2019 and both were an incentive for the Philippines to order more new corvettes and frigates from South Korea. The 1,200-ton Pohangs are small ships, with 24 built in the 1980s. They are old ships but well-armed and can stay at sea for about ten days at a time.

The Philippines recently ordered two 3,200-ton corvettes from South Korea. Each will cost $227 million and both will be delivered by 2026. Each corvette has better electronics and weapons than two “frigates” now in service with the navy.

Because of the threat from China, the Philippines has been seeking to obtain six new frigates/corvettes and so far, has ordered four of them from South Korea. The first two were ordered in 2016. These were 2,600-ton Jose Rizal class ships. Endurance is 30 day and the Rizals spend most of their time patrolling coastal waters and the Filipino EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) which extends 360 kilometers from the coastline. Given that the Philippines consists of 7,600 islands, there is plenty of coastline. Some of those islands are in the South China Sea and claimed by China.

The two new corvettes are 600 tons heavier and are better armed and equipped than the Rizals. The new ships have the same power-plant as the Rizal, which means they are slower. This puts them in the corvette class. Centuries ago, in the age of sail, frigates were the smallest type of ocean-going warship. Corvettes were smaller and generally used for coastal and offshore patrol. By the late 19th century sail had been replaced by steam and the frigate and corvette categories remained. The U.S. Navy called its corvettes cutters and these served with the coast guard. In wartime, coast guard ships serve with the navy. During World War II the U.S. Navy used some British designed corvettes that were considered patrol boats and similar to American designed ocean-going ships called destroyer escorts. Since World War II the terms frigate and corvette have often been used interchangeably.

Such is the case with the new warships purchased from South Korea, which has long been one of largest commercial ship builders in the world and since the 1980s became a major warship builder, for the South Korean Navy as well as a growing list of export customers.

January 16, 2022: The Philippines received another gift of military equipment from China, the recent donation is for construction and transportation equipment. In the past there have some donations of weapons and ammo for defeating leftist rebels and Islamic terrorists. Most of the $21 million in donations over the last decade have been non-combat gear. China sees this as a sales tactic to generate sales of vehicles and construction equipment and that has produced more sales of Chinese equipment to the Philippines.




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