Philippines: Private Armies Persist


April 11, 2012:  The government is offering the United States more access to Filipino ports and military bases in return for more weapons and military assistance, as well as help confronting Chinese pressure over disputed islands and shoals. The U.S. has offered most nations, in conflict with China over land disputes, aid and assistance. China does not like this growing alliance against it.

MILF leaders complain that the peace talks are stalled. The main problem is that Christian leaders from the south oppose Moslem autonomy demands. The MILF still feels entitled to more power than southern Christians (who are the majority in many parts of the "Moslem south") are willing to cede. Northern politicians tried to accommodate the MILF, and that created a firestorm of outrage among the Christian majority. 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 domination by Moslems in a more autonomous Moslem south. Resolving this issue has been considered essential to a peace deal. But now there is less unity among Moslem rebel organizations and more breakaway groups (like BIFF) appearing.

The president has ordered the national police to eliminate the many private armies and get it done by next year. Since the Ampatuan clan militia massacre in 2009, the government was forced to acknowledge the existence of private armed groups, or PAGs. Official attempts to identify and count PAGs quickly found over a hundred of them. The existence of PAGs is embarrassing because many of these private militias are controlled by local politicians who support the national government and were allowed to form (often with help from the army and national police) to help in the fight against Moslem (MILF) and communist (NPA) rebels. Many of these militias have been around for over half a century and their leaders are often local landlords or businessmen. This mix of politics, economics, and private militias often went rogue, as was seen to horrific effect in a November 2009, clan massacre that left 57 dead. Many of the PAGs continue to receive weapons, training, and other assistance from the government. The problem has been the lack of supervision, mainly because the national level politicians did not want to offend their local supporters by questioning how the private armies were used. Often, PAG members were used to intimidate voters during elections or for purely criminal activities. The identified PAGs had about 4,000 members. About half the PAGs are recognized as participating in illegal activities, the government is under increasing pressure to crack down. These illegal activities have been an open secret for decades, but prosecuting the PAG leaders means taking on powerful local families who provide political and economic support for national political parties and politicians. But in the last two years about a quarter of the PAGs were disbanded and half the known PAG members dismissed. The remaining PAGs have resisted disbanding. Part of this has to do with the large number of illegal weapons many of these fighters use. There are believed to be three million firearms in the country of 90 million but 40 percent of these pistols and rifles are unregistered and illegal. Getting rid of the PAGs won’t get rid of all the illegal weapons.

April 10, 2012: In the south (North Cotabato) a bomb went off in a bus, killing ten people. This was believed the result of extortion efforts by Islamic terrorists or common criminals. It's hard to tell who at the moment. Both types of criminals use extortion to raise money.

On Basilan Island a terrorist landmine went off, wounding 22 soldiers. Abu Sayyaf and other Islamic terrorists in the south increasingly use locally made landmines to protect their camps or terrorize civilians.  

April 9, 2012: Despite a truce for Christmas week MILF gunmen were involved in two clan wars, which the MILF leadership were unable to negotiate a truce for. The clan wars have become a growing problem in the south, where they have been endemic for centuries. The MILF was originally created decades ago as a means for all clans to unite to obtain autonomy for the Moslem south. That goal has not been achieved and the clan divisions have become more prominent in MILF politics.

April 8, 2012:  A navy patrol ship caught a Chinese fishing boat illegally operating off Scarborough Shoal. Although the shoal is 200 kilometers off the Philippines coast (Subic Bay, near the capital) more distant China claims it, and just about everything else in the South China Sea. Before the Philippines sailors could arrest the Chinese fishermen two Chinese patrol boats showed up and the warships have been in a stand-off ever since.

April 7, 2012: In the south (Jolo Island) Abu Sayyaf kidnapped a service station owner. The Islamic terrorists increasingly depend on these kidnappings of locals to raise operating funds.

April 5, 2012: On Basilan Island three local militiamen were killed when ambushed by Abu Sayyaf (which also lost a man).

April 4, 2012: The national police have dismissed 20 commanders and policemen for suspected corruption. This is part of a major effort to reduce this sort of bad behavior (which is widespread, well known, and very unpopular).

April 2, 2012:  In the south (Bukidnon) a clash with the NPA left a soldier and a rebel dead. Elsewhere in the south (Zamboanga del Norte) ten Abu Sayyaf pretending to be police kidnapped a local town mayor for ransom. On Basilan Island an Abu Sayyaf leader was killed during a clan feud.

March 29, 2012:  In the south (Northern Bukidnon) 45 members of NPA accepted the amnesty and surrendered to the army, bringing with them 30 weapons.

March 27, 2012: In the south (North Cotabato) fighting between MILF and MNLF gunmen left 20 homes burned down. A battalion of soldiers has been sent to the area to restore order.






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