Philippines: Secure Within, Defenseless Without

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June 16,2008: The war against the communist NPA is heating up. The rebels are operating more and more like a criminal gang (or, rather, several dozen separate gangs united by ideology and tactics). Extortion, kidnapping, and raids are necessary to buy needed supplies (food, medicine, ammo, morale building luxuries) and provide for the families of the leadership. The extortion business used to be a big earner, but of late the army has stepped in to make life difficult. For example, in the central Philippines, a group of fifty NPA rebels raided and looted a port town, as part of a campaign to persuade a major local business (a distillery) to keep making payments. Such spectacular operations, however, are seen as a challenge by the army, which sends in troops to seek out and destroy the camp of the local NPA organization. Meanwhile, the army encourages businesses to invest in the SCAA (Special Civilian Active Auxiliary), a paramilitary security force. The army helps arm and train these security guards, but the businesses guarded pay for salaries (about $50 a month) and equipment (minimal). There are about 4,000 SCAA men deployed around the country, where they hamper NPA operations, and criminals in general.

The new head of the military, lieutenant general Alexander Yano, pointed out that that all the effort expended on taking care of rebels (the communist NPA and Moslem MILF) and terrorists (al Qaeda linked Abu Sayyaf), means that the 120,000 strong armed forces are not able to defend the country against external threats. Lack of money has left the navy and coast guard crippled, and the air force is reduced to relying on second hand aircraft (like ten UH-1 helicopters just bought from Singapore) to stay viable. While the country can rely on the United States for help against an invasion, more complicated military confrontations (like disputes with China over several islands) are likely to see the Philippines on its own.

June 15, 2008: The army is responding to the kidnapping of a TV news crew by moving in more troops, to effect a rescue, or at least capture the rebels once money is paid. One of the lesser captives was released after payment of a $2,500 ransom. But the rebels are demanding over a million dollars for the other three. The army does not want the Abu Sayyaf to get their hands on that kind of money, because all that cash makes it easier for the rebels to survive in the hills (cash attracts more recruits, and provides money to bribe officers and officials).

June 14, 2008: In the south (Mindanao), the army found and captured an NPA camp, including much equipment and supplies the fleeing rebels had to leave behind. These operations severely damage the NPA gang that used the camp. The loss of food, equipment and other comforts is a big morale hit, and desertions often follow. A new base must be established, and more money raised. This usually leads to more risky operations, which often mean more losses, and a downward spiral of falling morale and reduced strength, that can end in the destruction of another NPA franchise. To avoid such a fate, NPA leaders will try and intimidate local army and police units, through kidnappings and ambushes. This rarely works, but it does create casualties on both sides.

June 9, 2008: Also in the south, the U.S. Hospital Ship Mercy temporarily halted helicopter flights (to bring patients from inland villages) when two bullet holes were discovered in one of the SH-60 choppers.

June 8, 2008: On Jolo, Abu Sayyaf kidnapped a TV crew of three men (who were doing a story on the Islamic rebels.) The rebels are apparently seeking nearly half a million dollars in ransom.

 

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