Final peace talks with MILF are going well and both sides expect to finish all the details by next month. This would establish a new Moslem entity (Bangasamoro) in the south that would have more autonomy but would make the Moslems down there responsible for 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 MILF’s official attitudes about who shall have the right to make war in Bangasamoro. The peace deal could still come apart over these details, especially the exact extent of the power the Bangasamoro government would have.
In Sabah (a Malaysian province on the island of Borneo, which is southwest of the Philippines across the Sulu Sea) nearly two hundred armed Filipinos are under fire from Malaysian troops who have arrived to disarm and arrest them. There have been some casualties. The Filipinos are members of a clan descended from a line of Moslem rulers of a Moslem sultanate that disappeared in the 19th century as the U.S., Holland, Spain, and Britain established control over the region. The Filipino government asked the intruders to withdraw but were ignored. Technically, the Philippines still claims Sabah, because that is a popular stance among Moslem voters in the Philippines. But as a practical matter these claims are moribund and considered a bit of history and little more.
Abu Sayyaf has apparently gone total gangster and left its Islamic terrorism roots moribund. Members mention Islamic radicalism less and less and work at being kidnappers and thieves more and more. But they are still down there (especially Sulu and Basilan) and the government still wants them all rounded up. That will be difficult because criminal gangs down there have staying power via family and economic connections with locals.
February 25, 2013: The government formally protested Chinese fishery patrols off the Filipino coast. Last year China declared most of the South China Sea as part of China and set up administrative facilities on one of the disputed small islands (that cannot otherwise support a population). China recently announced that it will spend $1.6 billion on building economic or security facilities on these disputed bits of land. China is also backing up its claims by stationing larger warships (frigates and destroyers, with helicopters on board) in the disputed waters. Chinese tactics involve moving in quietly (with warships or facilities built on reefs or uninhabited rocks) and then leaving nearby claimants the option of attacking (and being beaten by more powerful Chinese forced to “defend themselves”) or just backing off. The Philippines is seeking help from the United States if it comes to removing Chinese from waters that are generally recognized as Filipino.
February 21, 2013: The navy has sent more patrol craft to the southwestern provinces (the islands of Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, and Basilan) to prevent any more local armed men from going to nearby Sabah (a Malaysian province on Borneo Island).
February 9, 2013: Over a hundred armed Filipino Moslems landed in a remote village in the Malaysian province of Sabah and claimed the province as theirs.