China is increasing its pressure on the Philippines to remove small detachments of sailors and marines stationed on nine islets and reefs in the Spratly Islands. In particular, the Chinese want the detachment stationed on a World War II era landing ship (the BRP Sierra Madre) removed. The Filipino navy deliberately grounded the LST on Second Thomas Reef in 1999, to provide a place for an observation team. Chinese patrol ships have recently come within nine kilometers of the LST, which China insists is there illegally. The Philippines warns China that it will resist any attempts to use force against the grounded ship. In response China is building more buildings (on stilts) on nearby Mischief Reef (which is only 126 kilometers from the Philippines’ Palawan Island). Second Thomas Reef and nearby Reed Bank are 148 kilometers west of the Philippines (Palawan Island) and well within the Philippines’s EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone). Although the EEZ is recognized by international law (and a treaty that China signed and uses to defend waters off its own coast) China says that does not apply here because all the islets in the South China Sea belong to China and there is no room for negotiation on that point. Most countries in the region (except Japan, which would rather not dwell on this) note that this was how Japan behaved before World War II. Official U.S. policy is to try and get everyone to calm down and be less provocative. It was recently revealed that American P-3C maritime patrol aircraft regularly fly over the Spratly Islands and photograph Chinese installations and naval activities. This data is shared with the Philippines and perhaps others. China is the biggest offender in the Spratly Island disputes and shows no sign of slowing, or backing, down.
The government reported heavy damage to communist rebel group NPA last month. The leftist rebels lost 94 personnel (29 killed in combat, 12 captured, and 53 surrendered). The NPA is believed to have about 4,000 armed personnel, thus its July loss was over two percent of its total strength. The army reported that it lost 6 killed and 23 wounded in combat during July.
The government believes three recent bombings in the south (that left 14 dead and over 70 wounded) that no one claimed credit for are the works of Abu Sayyaf and/or BIFF. Abu Sayyaf is basically a group of Moslem gangsters who were expelled from MILF over a decade ago for bad behavior. They also support Islamic terrorism, but more as an excuse for their criminality than for religious reasons. Last month BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters) retreated into a swamp after taking a beating from the army and went along with an informal truce for the Moslem holy month of Ramadan that had just begun. Last September the main Moslem separatist group (MILF) negotiated a peace deal with BIFF, which was now supposed to rejoin MILF and stop causing problems with their attacks on Christians in the south. That has not happened yet. BIFF contains former members of MILF, something MILF leaders have played down for the past three years. Last year MILF openly agreed with government demands to do something about these "outlaws." BIFF contained about a thousand armed men earlier in the year and MILF sought to negotiate a peace deal with the dissidents while publicly insisting that it would crush these rebel rebels. BIFF had become increasingly violent and outspoken about how MILF is selling out Moslems. Now MILF will have to use force to coerce the BIFF outlaws to get with the new peace deal. Otherwise the treaty will turn into a civil war within the new Moslem homeland down south. BIFF refused to comply with the peace deal it made with MILF last year and the current army operations are not being opposed by MILF.
A BIFF leader recently gave a radio interview in which it claimed that BIFF was harboring wanted Indonesian terrorists from Jemaah Islamiyah (JI, an Indonesian Islamic terrorist group that has been largely destroyed in Indonesia over the last decade). Some of those JI men are expert bomb builders and their work is believed to have been found in some recent terrorist bombings in the Philippines. JI men were earlier believed to be hiding in Abu Sayyaf camps, but pressure from the military apparently made that untenable.
August 8, 2013: In the south (Basilan) a soldier was killed and eight wounded during a raid on an Abu Sayyaf camp. There the troops found weapons and bomb making materials.
August 7, 2013: In the south (Mindanao) a roadside bomb went off and wounded seven soldiers. Nearby another bomb went off in front of a commercial building at dawn, causing no casualties.
August 5, 2013: In the south (Cotabato city in Mindanao) a car bomb went off killing 8 and wounding 30. The target was apparently a city official, who was unhurt. In the north (Laguna province) gunmen on motorcycles ambushed a vehicle carrying a local politician, wounding him and killing 2 other passengers. It’s unclear who was responsible.
August 3, 2013: The government announced it had purchased a used French P400 class offshore patrol vessel and five newly built French 24 meter and 82 meter patrol boats.
August 2, 2013: A second retired American Coast Guard cutter has arrived in the Philippines. A Filipino crew took a month to get the 3,000 ton ship back to the Philippines, where the disarmed (and refurbished) vessel will be fitted out with weapons and other equipment.
July 31, 2013: Taiwan announced it would spend $110 million to build a naval base on Taiping Island, which is part of the Spratly Islands and claimed by both China and the Philippines. Taiping Island already has an airstrip maintained by the Taiwanese military and a small garrison.
July 30, 2013: In the north (Central Luzon) the army clashed with a group of NPA rebels trying to establish a base, killing 6 of them in a brief gun battle.
In the south (Maguindanao province) troops clashed with BIFF rebels, killing 8 of them. The BIFF gunmen were attacking traffic on a highway and attempting to plant bombs.
Elsewhere in the north (Albay province), 1.2 million people (160,000 customer accounts) were disconnected from the electrical power grid for over a day because of an unpaid $440,000 power bill. The power was restored within a day, when the national government intervened to obtain prompt payment guarantees from the provincial government. This incident is a result of anti-corruption measures against the power industry. Long a victim of corrupt politicians interfering with government controlled electrical power supplier operations (getting free power for allies and lots of bribes for themselves), the power supply in much of the country was unreliable and kept getting worse. The government solution was to privatize electrical power generation over the last five years and give the new owners the authority to disconnect anyone who did not pay. Albay province officials tried to defy this new arrangement and got cut off. The government allowed the power company to keep power off for the hundred biggest deadbeats, most of them connected with one corrupt politician or another.
July 28, 2013: In the south (Mindanao) police arrested a senior NPA leader. Elsewhere in the south (Sulu) a soldier was killed while disabling an Abu Sayyaf roadside bomb.
July 27, 2013: In the south (Mindanao) a bomb went off in front of a bar, killing 6 people. This was believed to be an Islamic terror attack against local Christians who were drinking and eating during Ramadan, when all Moslems are supposed to fast during the day. In many Moslem countries the Ramadan rules are applied to non-Moslems as well. Christians in the south fear the new Moslem autonomy proposals will result in laws like that.
July 26, 2013: In the south (Mindanao) a bomb went off killing 6 and wounding over 40.