Philippines: China Rewrites History

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August 23, 2014: The growing Chinese aggression in the South China Sea and adjacent waters is based, according to the Chinese, on their interpretations of history. The Chinese claim just about every uninhabited islet and reef in the region, despite older and more substantial (recognized by international agreements) claims by nations that are closer to the disputed areas. China has ordered its scholars to dig up any historical evidence for early Chinese presence on rocks, reefs and uninhabited islands in the South China Sea. What the Chinese historians have come up with is often vague, hearsay or subject to wide interpretation. In effect, China wants to reverse centuries of recent claims and practices to justify its aggression in the South China Sea. This Chinese effort has one major flaw; it ignores the fact that for thousands of year the Chinese imperial government (which lasted until 1910) disregarded seaward expansion or exploration. The current Chinese government has ordered this history rewritten and reinterpreted and has made it clear that all contradictory opinions by foreign scholars are false. Meanwhile tangible Chinese pressure comes mainly in the form of intimidation by their growing fleet of warships and patrol boats. Actual force (usually bumping into “trespassing” fishing boats or other commercial ships) is usually done by Chinese non-military ships, under orders from nearby Chinese warships or warplanes. New tactics and procedures have to be worked out to counter these Chinese methods.

Filipino fishermen report increased Chinese patrol activity within the Philippines EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone, waters 380 kilometers from the coast) in the South China Sea. Filipinos have been fishing reefs and other shallow waters within the EEZ for centuries, long before there was a Philippine state and without interference from Chinese fishermen. That’s because fishing boats with refrigeration, a 20th century invention, only recently made it possible for Chinese fishermen to scour the entire South China Sea for fish to catch, refrigerate and carry back to China. Filipino fishermen also report China constructing concrete structures on some of these reefs, apparently to make possible the establishment of military bases. China says this is within their rights and no one is trying to stop them with force. The victims of all this aggression are waiting on the United States to take the lead in confronting China. The U.S. has declined so far. The Philippines regularly protests the growing number of Chinese warships and coast guard vessels making “sovereignty patrols" within the Filipino EEZ. China rejects such complaints as without merit because China owns the South China Sea and to the Chinese that is settled law.

Filipino marines stationed on a World War II era landing ship (the BRP Sierra Madre deliberately grounded on Second Thomas Reef in 1999 to provide a place for an observation team) report at least three instances in the last month in which a UAV, apparently Chinese, was spotted circling them. China is known to be equipping its warships with UAVs. In 2013 Chinese patrol ships came 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.

The navy and the government are still arguing over how to get the two retired American Coast Guard cutters the U.S. donated to the Philippines. Filipino crews were used to make the month-long trip to get the 3,000 ton ships back to the Philippines. The second one arrived in 2013. The disarmed (and refurbished in the U.S.) vessels must still be fitted out with weapons and other equipment and there is disagreement between the navy and the government over the details. The navy wants the cutters to have lots of weapons and electronics but that would cost more than most legislators want to spend. The government has appropriated $57 million for the two ships and contractors are being sought to install weapons and electronics.

August 22, 2014: The government signed an agreement with Indonesia to resolve maritime disputes that have been under negotiation for over twenty years.

August 21, 2014: In the south (Basilan) 18 soldiers were wounded when their convoy was hit with a roadside bomb and ambush by Abu Sayyaf. Some of the casualties occurred as the troops pursued the fleeing Islamic terrorists.

August 20, 2014: In the south (Zamboanga City) police and soldiers worked together and arrested a much wanted Abu Sayyaf man.

August 19, 2014:  In the south ( Cotabato City) an Abu Sayyaf roadside bomb wounded a soldier and four civilians.

August 16, 2014: In the south (Sulu) 30 armed Abu Sayyaf gunmen raided a government motor pool and kidnapped two mechanics. One was found shot dead the next day (he had resisted captivity) while the Islamic terrorists demanded $340,000 ransom for the man they still held.

August 15, 2014: Videos have appeared in the Internet showing spokesmen from Abu Sayyaf and BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters) pledging allegiance to ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant), which recently declared a new caliphate in eastern Syria and western Iraq that has Islamic terrorist groups worldwide excited and divided. Al Qaeda has condemned ISIL for being too extreme but that appeals to long time Islamic terrorist groups like Abu Sayyaf. BIFF is a radical MILF faction that showed up in 2008. The main Filipino Moslem separatist group (MILF) has been fighting the BIFF since 2011 because of attacks on Christians in the south. Since then the BIFF violence had been getting worse. BIFF is also under attack by the security forces and has suffered heavy losses. Abu Sayyaf and BILL are each believed to have only a few hundred armed members, who survive by stealing, extortion and kidnapping. Some BIFF and Abu Sayyaf members are believed to have left the country recently. Filipino intelligence believes that between 100 and 200 Filipino Moslems have gone to Syria or Iraq to join ISIL.

August 14, 2014: Negotiations with MILF over the basic law for Bangsamoro (the new autonomous Moslem area) have concluded successfully. Neither side, however, would release all the details. It is known that the Moslems will get 75 percent of income derived from mining (especially gold and copper) and 75 percent of tax revenue. Income from petroleum, natural gas and coal will be split 50-50 with the federal government.  The Philippines legislature must approve the new law and that may be a hard sell. MILF also has to get the approval of most Moslems in the south, which should be a lot easier, even if all of them don’t get all they wanted. The government wants to get the Bangsamoro laws approved before the 2016 presidential elections.  

A ship hired by the Filipino government evacuated 449 Filipinos from Libya. This ship will pick up another 610 Filipinos at another Libyan port and take them all to Malta, where they can fly home. The government ordered a mandatory evacuation of Filipinos from war torn Libya on July 20th and has hired enough ships to get out the 3,000 who have agreed to leave. The chaos in Libya is the result of another civil war breaking out in May. Some 13,000 Filipinos work in Libya and the fighting is most acute in the two largest cities (Tripoli and Benghazi). This is where most Filipino workers are fleeing from. The loss of some 3,000 departing Filipinos has crippled the Libyan health care system. That’s because most of the medical professionals in the hospitals are from the Philippines (60 percent) and India (20 percent) and most of them are leaving. Both countries have ordered all their citizens out because of the growing chaos and violence. Without the foreign doctors, nurses and technicians most hospitals would have only a few such essential staff and would not be able to handle current patients much less new ones from the fighting. Despite the evacuation order most (over 75 percent) of the Filipino workers in Libya are staying, for now. These workers are in places where there is little, or no, violence.

Filipinos are popular foreign workers throughout the Arab world. That’s because Filipinos are often highly skilled, speak English and are willing to keep quiet about being Christian. There are over half a million Filipinos working in Arab countries, despite sometimes harsh treatment and occasional pressure to convert to Islam. Hundreds do convert each year, but many do it only to keep their jobs and abandon Islam once they get home.

Filipino expatriates also find themselves involved in the current war between Hamas and Israel. This is because there are over 36,000 Filipinos in Israel and the Palestinian territories (Gaza and the West Bank). Over 99 percent of these Filipinos work in Israel, as part of the large force of foreigners brought in to replace Palestinian workers after the Palestinian government declared a terrorist campaign against Israel in 2000. That terror campaign caused permanent loss of over 70,000 Palestinian jobs inside Israel. In response to that replacement workers were imported from India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Philippines. Israelis are happy with these workers, and many employers don’t want to replace them with Palestinians even if they could. Even though the Palestinian terrorism effort was defeated by 2005 that was largely because Israel allowed very few Palestinians from Gaza or the West Bank to enter Israel. Meanwhile labor demand increased since 2000 and there are now over 100,000 foreign workers in Israel. Non-Moslems are preferred and Filipinos are especially liked because they are often highly skilled, speak English and are Christian (only four percent of Filipinos are Moslem). There are, however, about 250 Filipinos in the West Bank and Gaza. These are Moslem wives or children of those women who all have Filipino passports. There were 109 of these in Gaza and fewer than a dozen asked the Filipino government to help get them out of Gaza to avoid the fighting. The rest chose to remain in Gaza. The Filipino government worked with the Israelis to get ten Filipinos out of Gaza by the end of July, despite all the fighting. The ten were allowed to enter Jordan. Very few Filipinos in Israel went home because of the fighting. Some Filipinos organized pro-Israel demonstrations in Israel.

August 8, 2014:  In the south (Basilan) a war between rival clans has left seven dead so far and over 5,000 people driven from their homes because of the fighting. The violence began on the 3rd and eventually enough police and soldiers arrived to convince the rival gunmen to agree to a ceasefire and negotiations.

August 4, 2014: In the south (outside Zamboanga City) local officials accuse MILF of violating the ceasefire by allowing over 40 of their men to engage in an illegal mining operation. MILF said it was dealing with the situation, which was apparently the work of a disobedient local MILF commander out to make some money.

August 3, 2014: In the south (Sulu) Abu Sayyaf gunmen kidnapped two women from a village and demanded ransom. One of the girls was released the next day and it’s unclear if the family paid a ransom (which is illegal, but if it is a manageable amount a family will often quietly pay and then say the captive “escaped.”)

July 30, 2014: In the south (Agusan del Norte) NPA rebels released four policemen they had taken captive during a July 10th attack on a police station.  

 

 

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