Philippines: Burning Down Splitsville


February 19, 2011: Abu Sayyaf  is having a bad year. In 2010, Abu Sayyaf attacks were down by half (from 110 to 54). Their biggest problem is a shortage of money, with kidnappings last year only raising $700,000. Now that seems like a lot of money (in the Philippines, where per-capita GDP is about $2,000) for an organization with only a 400 members left. Despite living in remote camps, the Abu Sayyaf have to pay bribes or high fees to locals to carry out high-risk missions (providing supplies, weapons and information). Heavier losses in the last year are partly the result of these cash shortages, as well as over 3,000 police and troops constantly chasing after them. While Abu Sayyaf has been around for two decades, the last few years have been very grueling. The hard core of the organization have been trapped on Basilan island, and Abu Sayyaf attempts to set up shop on the larger islands have been swamped by the massive counter-terror effort. Abu Sayyaf has few friends, lots of enemies and little cash. Current Abu Sayyaf strength is not only small, but about 20 percent of them are apparently unarmed.

MILF is insisting that current clan feuds, and lots of accompanying gun and mortar fire, are no danger to the peace talks. It's pointed out that there are about five or more of these feuds breaking out each month in the south. Most of these feuds are relatively low key (more shouting than shooting.) But some of them involve two or more heavily armed private militias, and these brawls are loud, bloody and go on for a while. Some of the fighting is the result of old disputes between the factions of the rebel MILF and pro-government MNLF. All this has led to several gun battles in the last month, leaving dozens dead and wounded. Over 5,000 people have fled their homes to avoid the shooting. Most of the unrest arises from two local MILF and MNLF commanders that have disputes with each other. The arguments escalated to involve over a thousand armed men from both groups. The army and police are trying to broker a ceasefire. Much of the current feuding is political, with some groups fighting to oppose any peace deal with the government that does not include a separate Moslem state in the south.

As a good-will gesture, the NPA released a policeman they captured 18 days ago.

February 16, 2011: Peace talks with the NPA resumed in Norway, and the NPA promptly asked for recently arrested Central Committee member Alan Jazmines be released as a "peace gesture." The government refused.

February 15, 2011: The NPA has offered a one week ceasefire, if the government will agree. The NPA wants to use the peace talks, and a cease fire, to escape from the steady pressure of police and army operations. Several years of this have done a lot of damage to the NPA, forcing the leftist rebels back to the negotiating table.

February 14, 2011: In the Central Philippines, police arrested a senior NPA official (Alan Jazmines, a member of the Central Committee). Jazmines was wanted on a murder charge.

February 13, 2011: On Basilan, soldiers found and captured an Abu Sayyaf camp. Five rebels and two soldiers were killed in the operation.

February 11, 2011: MILF negotiators overcame a major obstacle by dropping claims on large amounts of territory occupied by Christians. These claims had been something the government found they could not agree to (public antipathy to so many Christians ruled by Moslems was very widespread.) MILF is a coalition of Moslem separatist militias that have been beaten down by over a decade of violence that has done more damage to Moslems than Christians. Negotiating an acceptable deal has been difficult, because Moslems are only eight percent of all Filipinos, and an even smaller proportion of the economic activity. MILF wants control of more of the economy, which meant control of "ancestral Moslem areas" in the south that are now populated by Christians. The Christian majority refuses to allow Christians to be dominated by Moslems in a more autonomous Moslem south. Resolving this issue has been considered essential to a peace deal.

The MILF has also assured the government that MILF groups that have recently rebelled, will be taken care of. The worst of these splinter groups is BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters), which contains about a thousand armed men. In the past, such divisiveness has been a persistent problem. Over the last few decades, peace deals with Moslems separatists have constantly unraveled when some factions insisted on continuing the fight.

February 10, 2011: In the south, rogue MILF gunmen raided a Christian village and burned down houses. Hundreds of Christians fled, but none were killed.

February 8, 2011: In northern Kalinga province, a soldier was killed when his unit made contact with NPA rebels. More troops soon arrived and pursued the NPA unit.

An anti-corruption investigation has revealed that between 1999-2002, senior army officers diverted $55 million in UN money (payment of peacekeeping services) to a foreign bank account. Such payments are supposed to go to the national treasury account.

The government and the MILF resumed peace talks, after two years of no negotiations because of issues that appeared beyond resolution.

In the south, troops on Basilan cornered and killed an Abu Sayyaf member.

February 7, 2011: In the south, gunmen from BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters) attacked a village and killed two civilians. BIFF is a MILF splinter group that demands an independent Islamic state in the south.  

February 5, 2011:  In the north, a group of NPA rebels got into a battle with a businessman and his bodyguards. The fight left six dead, including two NPA members. The NPA had been demanding $900 to avoid NPA attack. The businessman refused, fought, and was killed. This is how NPA pays the bills.





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