Philippines: The Communist Threats

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March 18, 2022: President Duterte said the Philippines would allow the United States to use Filipino bases if the Ukraine crisis spread to Asia. The Philippines has an MDT ( mutual defense treaty) with the United States but it is not always adequate to deal with Chinese tactics. American government priorities can change radically every four years because of presidential elections. The current U.S. president is seen as less steadfast in dealing with China and Russia. The Americans did join NATO efforts against the Russians and the Philippines hopes that extends to increased aggression from China in the South China Sea.

The Russians are no longer communist but the Chinese are and both nations have become aggressively expanding. The Philippines appears to get most of the unwanted Chinese attention in the South China Sea because the Philippines has the most to lose. The 7,600 islands that comprise the Philippines amount to only 300,000 square kilometers (120,000 square miles) of land area. Compare this to China, with 9.6 million square kilometers of land. According to international law, the Philippines controls (via its EEZ or Exclusive Economic Zone) water areas covering 2.26 million square kilometers. By the same standards the Chinese EEZ waters comprises 877,000 square kilometers. The Philippines is also the weakest (in military terms) nation China is seizing territory from and their mutual defense treaty with the United States is not always adequate to deal with Chinese tactics.

The Chinese strategy is to make it difficult for other nations to fish or search for oil and gas in the disputed waters. China will then offer to negotiate, and share the economic benefits. The other nations will probably be offered some fishing rights in waters of the EEZ of each nation neighboring the South China Sea, but China will keep all the oil and gas outside each nation’s territorial waters (22 kilometers from the coast). China is assuming that no nation, including the United States, will confront China with military force in these matters. China itself will use military force sparingly. "Illegal" oil exploration or fishing, for example, will encounter Chinese civilian ships, and a few small military ships, that "accidentally" destroy fishing nets or disrupt oil exploration activities. This will, as it has in the past, involve "accidental" collisions with the offending ships. Any use of force against the offending Chinese civilian ships will be met with force by Chinese warplanes and warships.

An example of this has been the Philippine efforts since 2005 to conduct oil and gas exploration in the Reed Bank area. Reed Bank is considered part of the Spratly Islands and is 230 kilometers off the coast of the Philippines's Palawan Island, which is well within the internationally recognized EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) that extends 380 kilometers from the coast. China considers itself the owner of the Spratly Islands and has been increasingly aggressive in enforcing that claim. China has made it clear that any oil exploration or drilling activity in waters claimed by China will be at risk of interference by Chinese ships and aircraft. This alone is enough to scare off most oil companies. Filipino drilling was supposed to start in 2012 but China has blocked all Filipino attempts to exercise those drilling rights. The Chinese are very capitalistic communists and want all they can steal.

Local Communists

The NPA (New People’s Army) continues its decline, with several senior leaders killed or captured last year, some of them with over fifty years’ NPA experience. Many were found because of tips from local civilians. Most of the political violence in the Philippines since World War II has come from communists, who were present but not very active before World War II. The communists became a major part of the armed opposition fighting the brutal 1942-45 Japanese occupation. After independence in 1946 leftist rebels continued fighting, trying to establish a communist dictatorship. That proved difficult to do. A major reorganization took place in the 1960s, resulting in the creation of the NPA in 1969. The new communist rebel organization adopted the Chinese “Maoist” long term strategy. That was not very successful despite lots of economic and social problems they could promise to fix if they were in charge. Enthusiasm for a "communist solution" went sharply downhill after the collapse of the Soviet Union and its East European communist allies between 1989 and 1991. That massive failure of communist states left the NPA much weaker ideologically and vulnerable to subsequent amnesty programs. A decade ago, NPA leaders admitted that they had only a small fraction of their peak (in the 1980s) strength of 26,000 armed members. There were some serious attempts to reverse the decline in popularity. NPA gunmen were instructed to behave better around civilians and the NPA were found giving some civilians, especially health or aid workers, cash compensation of a few hundred dollars each for wounds received during NPA attacks on soldiers or police. The government increased its efforts to provide medical care for such victims of NPA violence, the NPA tried to compete and found they couldn’t afford it. Many NPA members arrested recently were wanted for banditry and similar crimes.

Information on the location of NPA camps, weapons storage sites or covert supporters is increasingly obtained from local civilians or NPA members that surrendered. Because of that more NPA camps are being attacked, weapons storage sites seized and key supporters arrested or killed, even in traditional strongholds like Bukidnon province.

March 12, 2022: During the last two weeks China has been trying to convince the Philippines and the world that a three day stay visit (ending February 1st) by one of their Type 815 (Dongdiao class) AGI (intelligence collection) ships was not a violation of maritime law. China claimed the right to innocent passage through the Sulu Sea near the Filipino coast. That would be true if the AGI simply moved through the area, something that normally takes a few hours at the slowest speed. AGI ships are designed to linger and collect electronic and other information. “Dongdiao” translates as “East Investigation” and the 6,000-ton ship carries 250 people, most of them sensor maintenance and monitoring technicians who also analyze some of the data and transmit it back to China or other aircraft or warships. The Chinese AGI was approached by a Filipino frigate and told to move on. The Chinese captain ignored those commands until the frigate appeared to be preparing to open fire. This is what Filipino neighbor and ally Indonesia has done several times when they find Chinese ships operating where they are not allowed to. China is believed interested in the Sulu Sea because it is part of an alternate sea route if the Malacca Strait is closed to China.

At the same time China has delivered two batches of military engineering and transport vehicles (trucks and buses) worth over $11 million since January. For a few years China tried to buy cooperation from the Philippines. This did not work but the military vehicles are dual-use and good quality. Filipino officials thank the Chinese for these gifts, which have no visible strings attached.

March 9, 2022: In the south (Davao Oriental province) police arrested a wanted NPA bomb maker and two of his accomplices. Also seized were two bombs plus an assault rifle and a pistol.

In the north (at an airbase outside Manila) the air force received the first of six T-129 Turkish helicopter gunships. The air force was going to buy transport and attack helicopters from Russia but this deal was canceled in 2018 because of sanctions with the United States providing sixteen UH-60s transports and Turkey the six gunships.

March 6, 2022: In the far north (Cagayan province) troops found a cache of NPA weapons and ammunition with the help of two former NPA members. The troops recovered five rifles, two pistols and ammunition for the weapons along with some NPA documents. Local villagers aided in the search since the two former NPA men did not know the exact location of the hidden weapons. The NPA often hides weapons so members can travel about unarmed as ordinary citizens.

March 5, 2022: In the south (Sulu province) police with a search warrant found bomb making components in a house occupied by the wife of a wanted Abu Sayyaf bomb builder. The woman, suspected of other Abu Sayyaf activity, was also arrested.

March 3, 2022: Filipino army officials believe the new head of ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) in Southeast Asia is Filipino Abu Zacharia, the leader of the Filipino branch of ISIL. The larger ISSA (IS Southeast Asia) includes Filipino members as well as smaller factions in Malaysia and Indonesia.

March 2, 2022: In the south ( Lanao del Sur province) soldiers had several encounters with an Islamic terrorist faction associated with ISIL. Over the last two days this resulted in eight Islamic terrorists killed. One soldier was killed and four wounded. The Islamic terrorist dead were identified as members of the Maute Group, which now prefers to be called DITG (Dawlah Islamiyah Torayfie Group). Members of this group tend to fight to the death if trapped, rather than even consider surrender. Remnants of several ISIL factions have been trying to survive in this area since 2017. DITG has few personnel left and there have been a few DITG bombings since 2019, usually against military convoys or camps. In mid-2021 one the last known DITG bomb-builders was killed and the army found evidence that there were more armed DITG members around than previously believed. On the plus side all or most of them had coalesced into one group led by Abu Zacharia, a veteran DITG leader. This faction was first identified and encountered in 2021 and several times since then. The troops are trying to force the Islamic terrorists into a fight, or a surrender. DITG survived four years of constant army patrols and civilians who phone in tips as well as those who provide just “terrorists have been here” messages. While there is cell phone coverage in 95 percent of the populated areas there are still many rural areas where people own cell phones but have to travel to a town or city to use them. Desperate Islamic terrorists will destroy existing cell towers in areas where they are being pursued. What has hurt the Islamic terrorists most is that more rural Moslems openly provide information and the security forces have lists of towns and villages where there are informants. The names of informants are often not provided but local soldiers and police know that just asking local leaders or merchants will get them to someone who has timely information to share. DITG has been trying to regroup, rebuild and move forward with more devastating attacks. Their attacks since 2019 caused little damage and few casualties. DITG was never officially acknowledged by ISIL and is composed of the survivors of the Maute Group, which was largely wiped out in 2017 when they tried to take over the nearby city of Marawi. That failed in a spectacular fashion, which is one reason ISIL does not want to be associated with this group.

February 24, 2022: In the south (Davao de Oro province) troops encountered five NPA members, some of them armed and ordered them to surrender. That was refused and after a fifteen-minute pursuit and gun battle all five were dead. Two of the dead were known NPA members and two were not. The fifth man was a local school teacher known to be a communist and pro-NPA.

February 22, 2022: In the south (Misamis Oriental province) two NPA members were killed during a confrontation with troops. Other NPA members escaped.

February 21, 2022: In the north (Kalinga province) soldiers and police arrested a local NPA member accused of murder. Local civilians aided in finding the wanted man.

 

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