Dissident members of the MNLF (a Moslem separatist group that made peace with the government in 1996) continue to hold civilians as human shields in the southern port city of Zamboanga and the nearby island of Basilan. Despite heavy losses in nearly a week of fighting, there are still about a hundred MNLF gunmen, in six locations in Zamboanga and Basilan holding nearly 200 civilians as human shields and surrounded by several thousand soldiers, who are backed up by as many police plus pro-government militiamen. Before this outbreak the MNLF had, for the most part, kept its part of the two decade old peace deal. Many MNLF members joined the police and army and others remained as part of local self-defense militias. But some MNLF members are upset with the peace talks conducted with the MILF, another separatist group that kept fighting and is finalizing a new treaty that will create an autonomous Moslem state in the southern Philippines. These MNLF dissidents resent the attention, and power, being given to MILF. This rivalry with the MILF has been going on for decades, as has the appearance of dissident MNLF groups. One of these made a similar attack in Zamboanga in 2001, which was settled peacefully. But over the last decade some dissident MNLF men have joined Islamic terror group Abu Sayyaf, in addition to those who skirmish with MILF rivals and then make peace. MNLF was founded in the early 1970s, about six years before the more radical MILF got started. There has always been lots of factionalism in the Moslem south, usually based on clan feuds. But political and religious differences have also caused lots of unrest. The separatist violence instigated by the MNLF and MILF have left nearly 200,000 dead, most of them Moslems in the south. The current MNLF uprising is largely driven by the fear that the MILF will control the new autonomous Moslem government in the south and will keep most of the money (local government funds, which everyone expects will be plundered by government, mostly MILF, leaders) for themselves, leaving the MNLF out. People in this part of the Philippines have long gone to war over less.
The MNLF violence in the past six days has left at least 52 dead, over 100 wounded and over 25,000 local residents fleeing their homes. So far 19 of the MNLF gunmen have been captured. Most (88 percent) of the dead are MNLF, while the remaining dead are split between security forces and civilians. So far 46 soldiers and police have been wounded, along with twenty civilians. It’s unclear how many wounded the MNLF have, as they have not revealed any information about that. Some of the dead MNLF showed signs of earlier wounds. MNLF gunmen are holding about 170 civilian human shields at six locations and continue to threaten to kill their captives if the troops do not back off. That’s not all the MNLF rebels want, they also demand guarantees that the MNLF will share in control of the new autonomous government. The government really can’t do anything about that as elections in the south will determine who gets what. The MNLF dissidents believe that elections will give MILF control of the south and resent that.
The government has accused China of starting construction of an illegal base on Scarborough Shoal. Filipino sailors have found 30 concrete blocks dumped on the shoal, apparently the first stage of constructing a Chinese base on stilts. China has done this before and usually does it secretly and then declares the new structure a Chinese “base” that is protecting Chinese territory. In the last few months Filipino fishermen have complained that they are being chased away from their traditional fishing areas off the Filipino coast by Chinese coast guard ships near Scarborough Shoal. This is in violation of a 2012 deal made with the Chinese, who were quick to violate the agreement. Not only did Chinese patrol boats soon return to Scarborough Shoal but Chinese fishing boats again began operating there and even erected a flimsy barrier (with rowboats, rope, and fishing nets) across the entrance to the lagoon and forcibly preventing Filipino fishing boats from entering. Scarborough Shoal is in waters the Philippines claim in accordance with international law. The shoal is only 250 kilometers from one of the large inhabited Philippine islands (Palawan) and 1,200 kilometers from China. Despite this China claims ownership of Scarborough Shoal but has not yet used deadly force to assert that claim. What China is apparently doing is sending patrol boats from their fishery protection service to “protect their fishermen” and keep the area clear long enough for a base to be built. According to China, they are in compliance with the 2012 deal, as they never agreed that Chinese fishing boats could not operate around Scarborough Shoal. The Philippines do not agree but have refrained from sending warships to the shoal and chasing the Chinese fishing boats away. To Filipinos this is another example of China saying one thing and doing another. China has denied that they are building a base, but they always do until the construction is completed.
September 13, 2013: The government arranged a ceasefire with the rebels in Zamboanga and the nearby island of Basilan, but there was apparently not much unity among the various groups of MNLF gunmen because within hours some of the MNLF were again firing on soldiers, who fired back.
September 12, 2013: On Basilan Island MNLF gunmen attacked, killing a pro-government militiaman wounding and four soldiers and a civilian before being repulsed. In Zamboanga troops seized a mosque from MNLF gunmen because the minarets were being used by snipers and shooting at troops and civilians over a large area.
September 10, 2013: In Malaysia (Sabah) security forces were put on high alert in case the MNLF violence in nearby Zamboanga and Basilan spread. Filipino Moslem radicals have threatened Malaysia recently, mainly over old territorial claims. That “invasion” was put down back in June when Malaysia officially ended its military operations against Filipino invaders in Sabah. Malaysian police appear to have eliminated (killed, captured, driven out, or driven underground) all the Filipino Moslems associated with Filipino clan leader Raja Kiram. He openly invaded the Malaysian province of Sabah in February and sought to take control of Sabah because of an old claim his family had on the area. Most of the invasion force (several hundred armed men) was destroyed in March. The fighting resulted in over 80 dead (nearly all of them Filipinos). After that, Malaysia went after what police believed were at least a hundred of the armed Kiram followers still in the area. All of these now appear to be accounted for and 23 have been charged with murder and terrorism so far. Meanwhile, over 5,000 Filipino civilians (most of them apparently working in Sabah illegally) have fled Sabah, many of them returning to the Philippines. Meanwhile, Filipinos continue to flee Sabah as the Malaysian government is no longer tolerating Filipinos living illegally in Sabah.
September 9, 2013: In the southern port city of Zamboanga some 200 dissident members of the MNLF attacked and took over a hundred civilian hostage. It began with a pre-dawn march on the Zamboanga city hall by hundreds of MNLF members protesting the peace negotiations rival MILF was conducting with the Filipino government. The protestors were seeking to take control of Zamboanga by seizing city hall. Some of the demonstrators were armed and this led to skirmishes with security forces and eventually the demonstration broke up and groups of armed MNLF members retreated to pro-MNLF neighborhoods and seized buildings and took hostages. Police and troops showed up at all these locations and surrounded the armed MNLF men. In a few cases the MNLF men fled and some were killed or captured.
September 1, 2013: In the south (Mindanao Island) NPA rebels attacked a rubber plantation for not paying protection money. Some plantation facilities were burned and landmines planted. One of these mines killed a plantation worker as he drove to the scene of the fire.
August 30, 2013: In the south (North Cotabato province) Moslem BIFF rebels planted a roadside bomb that wounded two soldiers.
August 29, 2013: In the north (Sagada) NPA snipers killed two soldiers. The army responded with a sweep of nearby areas and that resulted in a clash with some 30 NPA gunmen and the troops capturing the camp these NPA men were living in.
August 28, 2013: A court ordered the arrest of a former commander of the national police and charged him with corruption. The main charge involves an illegal contract issued in 2007, just before the arrested man (Avelino Razon) retired.