January 8, 2012: The government and the NPA are arguing over how powerful the leftist rebels are, and how they stay in business. The NPA claims to have 16,000 armed members and have control of large rural areas. The police counter that the NPA survives with about 5,000 gunmen who extort over $5 million a year from businesses and individuals and control no territory at all. Over the last decade, the NPA has dumped most of its political activity. Due to being tagged an international terrorist organization, donations from foreign (especially Western) leftists dried up and the group had to concentrate on local fund raising. As a result, the NPA is now regarded as a bunch of gangsters who occasionally spout political slogans. While some NPA factions want to negotiate a peace deal, more radical factions control the organization and are demanding the government release 17 jailed NPA leaders before any talks can begin. The government refuses to release any jailed NPA members and vows to grind down the NPA until nothing is left.
The army believes that Abu Sayyaf is sheltering at least five wanted Islamic terrorists (one with a $5 million reward on his head). All are foreigners and most had fled Indonesia. While Abu Sayyaf has only about 400 armed men left, they also have local family connections and good relations with smugglers and gangsters. This has made it difficult to track down and kill, or capture, the remaining Abu Sayyaf men. Because Abu Sayyaf uses kidnapping to raise money, most Western nations have warned their citizens to stay away from those areas in the southern Philippines where Abu Sayyaf is active.
MILF and the government resume peace talks this month and are still at odds over MILF demands for autonomy in the Moslem south. The fact is that the Moslems are a small minority (8 percent) of the Filipino population. Worse yet for the autonomy demand,
Moslems are only about a third of the 22 million people on Mindanao and the smaller southern islands. The rest are Christians, who do not want to share the island with an independent Moslem state. Moreover, most of the Moslem population is intermixed with Christians, and the radical Moslems want these Christians expelled. But the radical Moslems are not strong enough to force the majority Christians out. Many Moslem majority areas have become largely Christian in the past decade. The Christian majority has been encroaching on the sparsely populated areas of the Moslem south for over a century. This movement of Christians has accelerated as the economy has improved in the last decade. Many Moslems see their culture threatened, but armed resistance has not done much to help. The Moslems are outnumbered and have been losing battles for decades. Radical Islam has not been able to halt this process, and fewer and fewer young Moslems are willing to die for that cause. But many young Moslems are willing to become bandits and outlaws, and that is what most of the hostiles down south are turning into.
The Philippines complained to China about a Chinese warship entering the Filipino exclusive economic zone (anything within 380 kilometers of land) and violating a 2002 agreement by nations bordering the South China Sea. But China has since claimed control of the entire South China Sea, but has not used force to assert that claim, yet. In the meantime, China ignores complaints from the likes of the Philippines.
Many military personnel are still involved in dealing with the enormous typhoon (Pacific hurricane) that hit the country three weeks ago. Over 1,000 are known dead and over a thousand are missing and presumed dead. There are many more injured and over 300,000 homeless.
January 5, 2012: Abu Sayyaf is believed to be holding a former Australian soldier, who is married to a Filipina, who was kidnapped on December 5th. His kidnappers are demanding a $2 million ransom but the Australian government reminded everyone that they do not pay ransoms. The Australian government said they will do everything else they can to get the Australian captive released. This may include military cooperation with the Philippines. The kidnapped man had been living in the coastal town of Ipil for the last eight months with his wife. It's believed that local gangsters grabbed him and then sold their victim to Abu Sayyaf, which has experience in negotiating large ransoms while avoiding getting caught. The initial kidnappers asked for a $23,000 ransom, but then they were apparently contacted by Abu Sayyaf and a deal was made. The kidnapping, and all the international media attention it is getting, has persuaded MILF to openly join the search for the kidnappers and aid in rescuing the hostage. Abu Sayyaf started out as a breakaway MILF faction that scored some large ransoms. The government has told MILF that there can be no peace deal unless MILF can demonstrate an ability to maintain law and order.
January 3, 2012: In the south, NPA gunmen clashed with local security personnel leaving one local defense guard dead, along with one rebel.
December 25, 2011: In the south (South Cotabato) police found two roadside bombs and disarmed them.
December 24, 2011: The United States said it is willing to help the Philippines obtain a squadron (12-15 aircraft) of used American F-16 jet fighters. The Philippines is broke, so the proposed deal is for free F-16s, with the Philippines paying for any upgrades or modifications needed for service in the Philippines Air Force. Normally, the Philippines has no practical need for a jet fighter force. But this has changed because of possible clashes with China, the Filipinos are being practical. China is claiming Filipino territorial waters, including places where the Philippines authorized drilling for oil and gas. The Philippines could never afford to buy, or even just maintain warplanes sufficient to deal with a Chinese air threat. The Philippines depends on its friendship with the United States for protection. American warplanes provide better protection than any jet fighters the Philippines could put in the air. But the Philippines would like a dozen or so F-16s just so they can chase away Chinese warplanes that increasingly fly into Filipino air space. Seven years ago, the Philippines removed from service its last eight operational F-5 fighters. These 1960s era aircraft were not much of a match for more recent warplanes and were expensive to maintain. In the meantime, the Philippines has been using armed trainer aircraft for strikes against Moslem and communist rebels.