Philippines: One Plague After Another


August 24, 2020: The Philippines has become more aggressive in sending its ships and aircraft to challenge Chinese ships within the Filipino EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) which extends 380 kilometers from the coastline. In the last two decades China has aggressively asserted its claimed ownership of most of the South China Sea. This claim was first made after World War II but not often acted on, except in the 1970s against Vietnam. In the last decade China has more aggressively asserted its claims om the South China Sea but has not opened fire on anyone “illegally operating in the South China Sea.” There has been some violence against Filipino fishing boats operating within the Filipino EEZ. This included a May 2020 incident when Chinese coast guard ships seized fishing equipment from a Filipino fishing boat that was actively fishing. This angered many Filipinos, and encouraged the government to keep up the hostile statements and military activities against the Chinese intruders.

In 2016 an international court declared the Chinese claims illegal. China ignored the ruling and has been protecting Chinese claims mainly through propaganda and intimidation. The Philippines admits that it has not got sufficient military forces to oppose China. The local coalition opposed to the Chinese claims does have the military capability to block Chinese forces. That coalition includes the United States, Australia, Japan and South Korea and several other local nations. For the moment it is a war of words and it’s up to China to escalate that to open warfare. China has not opened fire since 1974 when they fought a naval battle with the South Vietnamese near the Paracel islands, and took control after sinking one of the four Vietnamese warships and chasing the others away. Since Vietnam was united in 1975 China has continued to claim areas within the Vietnamese EEZ and used intimidation to enforce those claims.


The nationwide quarantine was lifted two months ago, except for Manila and other major cities. There are calls to keep the lockdown in cities, despite the fact that the quarantine in urban areas is crippling the economy. The government has not got the resources to feed and care for so many urban Filipinos who are confined to their homes. Many of the confined are going hungry and not willing to quietly starve to death. People are defying the lockdown to survive all manner of privation. In the last week some quarantine restrictions have been lifted in Manila and other cities. More are to follow.

Covid19 cases in the Philippines were concentrated in cities, especially the capital Manila. Overall, the Philippines has suffered 27 covid19 (coronavirus) deaths per million population so far, which is up from nine per million in early June. Confirmed cases per million has gone from 200 to 1,730 known cases of the virus per million people. In early April the government ordered a nationwide lockdown to halt the spread of the virus and make it easier to treat those who have it. Many Filipinos did the simple math and realized that the efforts to halt the spread of the virus are more dangerous than the virus itself.

Neighbors Malaysia currently has had 286 cases and four deaths per million, Singapore has 9,700 confirmed cases per million and five deaths per million while Indonesia has 560 cases per million and 24 deaths per million. The Philippines has an advantage because it has no land borders with any other nation. The Philippines consists of 7,600 islands, which further limits the spread of the virus. The number of confirmed cases is more a matter of how many people could be tested. An accurate count of covid19 deaths depends on the ability to test those who die, or are dying from covid19. This coronavirus has symptoms similar to many other existing diseases and the breathing problems that often kill covid19 victims are similar to those dying from pneumonia. This is a common cause of death for the elderly or those already weakened by other diseases. These comprise a disproportionate number of known covid19 fatalities. The number of confirmed cases is just that, people who have been tested and found to be, or has been infected. It’s been known from the beginning (thanks to being able to test everyone on cruise ships and warships) that 80 percent of the population suffers no ill effects from the virus and half those who do get it feel no ill effects. The death rate for covid19 is low compared to the killer epidemics of the past (smallpox, typhoid, and so on) but higher than most strains of influenzas that appear each year. Scary but not that scary.

Offshore Blowback

A major side effect of the covid19 pandemic is the reduction in remittances sent back to the Philippines by the ten million Filipinos who work overseas. In 2019 this came to $33.5 billion, which was about nine percent of national GDP. In 2020, for the first time since 2001, there will be no growth in remittance income which will decline a few percent at most. Those overseas Filipinos are ten percent of the population. In effect, a fifth of the Filipino workforce is employed outside the Philippines and twelve percent of households in the Philippines depend on remittance income. Filipinos are very popular overseas workers because of their energy, skills and ability to speak English well. There are no jobs at home for all this talent because of the corruption that stifles economic growth. The Philippines is among the ten most corrupt nations in the world. 

Worldwide, Filipino remittances income has the greatest impact on the home country. Two other nations (China and India) receive more remittance income ($60-70 billion each) but both these nations have far larger populations and GDP. In 2020 remittance income declined less than did the GDP of overseas countries where Filipinos worked, indicating that even in a virus induced global recession the Filipinos were more effective at coping with the disaster.

August 18, 2020: In the south (Lanao del Sur province) ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) took credit for killing a policeman. The few dozen ISIL members here formerly belonged to BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters), a group originally created to demand independence for the Moslems in the south. By 2014 the majority of Moslems and Christians in the Philippines agreed to an autonomous Moslem region on the southwest coast of Mindanao (the large southern island) and the string of smaller islands (Sulu, Basilan, Tawi, Tawi) extending from southwestern Mindanao towards Malaysia. The new Moslem entity (Bangasamoro) has more autonomy, but makes the Moslems down there responsible to maintaining the peace. This is no small matter because, more than elsewhere in the Philippines, the Moslem south has long had many more clan militias that believed it was their right to engage in private wars. Not all the clans share the official attitudes about who has the right to make war in Bangasamoro.

Bangasamoro governs the four million Moslems in Mindanao. Down there the Moslems are outnumbered by Christians who had moved there in the last half century. Nationwide there are about 11 million Moslems and nearly 90 million Christians. The Christian Filipinos are better organized, more industrious and more economically successful. The Moslems believe they should run Mindanao even if they are the minority, because Mindanao is the local "Islamic homeland." While some in the government are willing to concede this, the Christian majority in Mindanao (and the rest of the Philippines) does not. Because of this groups like BIFF are treated as outlaws in Bangasamoro and have lost support and members since 2014.

August 13, 2020: Senior Abu Sayyaf leader Anduljihad Susukan surrendered to the government. This was arranged by one of the local militias in Bangasamoro that used to be tolerant of Abu Sayyaf but are now hunting the Islamic terrorists. Anduljihad Susukan recently lost an arm in combat. The army thought Susukan was dead but Susukan had survived the wound and sought out MNLF leader Nur Misuari, who agreed to arrange for Susukan to surrender to the government. Susukan is wanted for 23 murders and five kidnappings plus other crimes. The MNLF is a Moslem separatist group that made peace with the government in the 1990s and helped with the establishment of Bangasamoro. The MNLF still controls some armed militias.

August 10, 2020: In the north (Ilocos Sur province) an army patrol encountered five NPA rebels, who fired on the soldiers. One soldier, all five NPA and a civilian bystander died.

August 4, 2020: In Beirut, Lebanon four Filipino expatriates were killed and twenty wounded when a warehouse with 2,700 tons of explosives in it detonated, killing nearly 200 people and wounding over 5,000. Lebanon has thousands of Filipino workers and many of them have been leaving because of the growing disorder and violence there. That mayhem has crippled the local economy, which leads to high unemployment rates. Filipinos tend to go back to the Philippines before seeking another overseas job.

July 31, 2020: In the south (Davao del Norte province) a firefight between troops and NPA rebels resulted in one NPA gunman killed while the rest got away. The fighting caused over 500 local civilians to flee their homes to avoid the gunfire.

In the north (Ilocos Sur province) a soldier was killed and three wounded when his patrol encountered NPA landmines.

July 29, 2020: Nineteen days after it was put into service the frigate BRP Jose Rizal (FF-150) departed to participate in the 2020 RIMPAC (Rim of the Pacific) naval exercises during August 17 to 31. These are held every two years and not all Pacific rim nations are invited. In 2018 a Chinese intelligence collection ship arrived off Hawaii to unofficially observe the RIMPAC international military exercises. In late May the United States withdrew its invitation for China to attend the 2018 RIMPAC. This exercise has been held since 1971 and is currently held every two years for nations that are dependent on freedom of the seas in the Pacific Ocean. During the Cold War (that ended in 1991) RIMPAC was about how to deal with the Russian threat. China was first invited to attend in 2014. RIMPAC is the largest international naval exercises held anywhere. There are usually twenty or more nations participating plus other invited to observe. Even when China was invited to observe RIMPAC one of their Chinese intelligence collection ships would show up as an unofficial observer.

This is the first time the Philippines has been able to attend with a modern warship. The Jose Rizal is the first of two South Korean frigates that were ordered in 2016. These cost $169 million each and are smaller versions of the South Korean FFX (Incheon class) frigate.

The Rizal class frigates are 2,600-ton ships armed with a 76mm gun, a SMASH 30mm autocannon RWS (Remotely Operated System). This is Turkish system using the American Bushmaster 2 cannon. It has 150 rounds of ammo that can be fired singly or at up to 200 rounds a minute (3-4 a second) at targets up to three kilometers distant. The Italian 76mm cannon is also RWS and can fire 85 rounds a minute at targets up to 20 kilometers distant. Rizal is equipped to handle a CIWS (close in weapons system) like Phalanx but is not yet armed with one. There are also mounts for four 12.7mm machine-guns.

The Rizal is called a missile frigate because it has lots of missiles. There are four South Korean anti-ship missiles (sort of improved Harpoons) with a range of 160 kilometers. There are also four South Korean 320mm lightweight anti-submarine torpedoes with a range of 19 kilometers. There are two twin-launchers for Mistral heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles with a range of six kilometers. There is also space for an eight cell VLS (vertical launching system) but, as with the CIWS the fire control system can handle these if installed. There is also a hanger and landing pad for a helicopter. There are also two RHIBs (rigid inflatable speedboats) for landing parties.

Leaving out the CIWS and VLS cells and using the simpler Mistral anti-aircraft missiles kept the price down. The Rizal can also handle a towed sonar but does not have one. There is a sonar built into the hull. There is a 3-D air search radar as well as a navigation radar, a fire control radar and an electro-optical tracking system. The Rizal has a crew of 65 with accommodations for twenty more sailors plus 25 passengers. Top speed is 48 kilometers an hour and range is 8,300 kilometers. Endurance is 30 days. While the Rizals are capable to long-range cruises most of their time will be spent patrolling coastal waters and the Filipino EEZ. 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.




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