June 4, 2012: Abu Sayyaf is increasingly a bunch of bandits, rather than a terrorist threat. The group has turned to crime (extortion, kidnapping, and theft) to support itself, and there appears to be little personnel and resources left for terror attacks. There are a few hundred members left, mainly on Jolo and Basilan islands, and these are constantly pursued by thousands of troops. Fewer and fewer Abu Sayyaf men are being found on the larger islands, at least not many who are planning terror attacks.
The stand-off with China over who owns what in the South China Sea continues but there are no warships facing off at each other. Now the United States has stepped up and reminded China that the Philippines has a powerful ally and that future negotiations must take that into account. China has not responded, other than the usual "we ain't afraid of nobody" stuff. That remains to be seen.
Court proceedings move slowly against those accused in the massacre of 57 political activists and journalists in November, 2009. Many believe that the powerful clan the accused belongs to will be able to kill or intimidate witnesses to back down and there will be no convictions. So far, three witnesses have been murdered and more are believed in danger. Some believe that the national government was under pressure to somehow not punish the well-connected among those arrested. It's all about guys with guns. The largely Moslem south is awash in guns, as well as religious hatred. The 2009, massacre was a local dispute and there are plenty more like it down there. But the big problem is the private armies that politicians, major businessmen, and the heads of some clans maintain. These are in addition to the MILF (which sometimes overlaps with the non-separatist private armies). There are more guys with guns in those private armies than there are police and soldiers in the south. The government keeps the peace by paying off the leaders of most of these pro-government militias. This is usually done with government money or jobs. But it is also done with assistance when someone gets arrested. However, the 2009, massacre suspects are under a spotlight and making the charges go away for any of these guys will be noticed. Thus the slow movement of the courts in this matter is seen as an attempt to wait out the eager press. Eventually, the reporters will have to move on to more headline worthy subjects.
The government plans more corruption prosecutions of senior (and retired) officials. The ultimate goal is to eliminate most corruption throughout the government. This is especially urgent for the national police, whose many corrupt members make it very difficult to fight crime (especially anything involving corruption).
May 29, 2012: In a major blow against corruption the Senate voted 20-3 to dismiss the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (for not declaring $2.4 million in income and having a lot of unexplained income).
May 28, 2012: In the north (Camarines Norte province) NPA gunmen fought soldiers and retreated, leaving one dead rebel behind. Troops also captured a laptop and some documents.
May 27, 2012: China has agreed to allow Filipino bananas to again enter China. This ban was part of Chinese retaliation for Filipino standing up to Chinese aggression off the coast of the Philippines. China claims all small islands and atolls in the South China Sea and all oil and natural gas within 400 kilometers of these bits of land. These claims ignore the rights (under the 1994 Law of the Sea) and claims of other countries bordering the South China Sea. State run Chinese TV has also allowed its news readers to "accidentally" claim that the Philippines was actually part of China. Economically, the Philippines is becoming more dependent on China, which has become a major importer of Filipino goods and raw materials in the last two decades. China regularly punishes its trading partners by halting imports (and complaining if these trading partners do the same).
May 23, 2012: A policeman was arrested for bombing a bus last year, as part of an extortion scheme. If the bus company did not pay for protection from such attacks corrupt cops would plant bombs on busses. This particular cop planted a bomb that killed five people.
May 22, 2012: Another retired American Coast Guard cutter was turned over to the Philippines. The ceremony took place in the United States. A Filipino crew will take the 3,000 ton ship back to the Philippines, where the disarmed (and refurbished) vessel will be fitted out with weapons and other equipment.
May 21, 2012: Abu Sayyaf leader Sahibul Sailani was arrested on Basilan.