Philippines: We Will Never Surrender

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December 18, 2014: The government has begun a Christmas and New Year ceasefire with the NPA, which will last from today through June 19 th . There is already a long-term ceasefire with MILF. While the holiday ceasefire does not technically apply to MILF breakaway faction BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters), troops are willing to live and let live with BIFF for a month. BIFF may not cooperate because it refuses to accept the peace deal MILF negotiated. For Abu Sayyaf there will most definitely not be any ceasefire and the commander of troops in the south made it clear that the battle with Abu Sayyaf and any other Islamic terrorist groups in the south will continue without letup.

The government also said that after the implementation of the peace deal with MILF in 2015 the remaining terror groups (NPA, BIFF, Abu Sayyaf and a few other smaller ones) will get the full attention of the security forces. One goal here is to get the Philippines off the list of the top ten sources of terrorist deaths. A recent terrorism survey (Global Terrorism Index) found that the top ten nations by terrorist activity (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, Syria, India, Somalia, Yemen, Philippines and Thailand) were mostly all about Islamic terrorism. Only India and the Philippines had a significant minority of terrorist deaths that were not carried out by Moslems. In those two countries the minority terrorists were leftist rebels who had not noticed the collapse of radical socialism in 1989. In the Philippines the leftist diehards are the NPA. Meanwhile the rapid growth in Islamic terrorism violence caused the total number of terrorist acts worldwide to increase 44 percent in 2013 over 2012. The main source of such deaths in the Philippines is Abu Sayyaf and BIFF. Meanwhile five nations (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria, in that order) accounted for 80 percent of all terrorism related deaths in 2013 and even more in 2014. Four Islamic terrorist organizations (ISIL, al Qaeda, Boko Haram and the Taliban) account for nearly 70 percent of all terrorist deaths. Many of the lesser terror groups, like those in the Philippines, are also Islamic.

The government is also having some success with its anti-corruption campaign. There have been more prosecutions of senior government and police officials. The government is now awaiting the results of annual surveys of corruption that appear early in 2015. A year ago such a survey of business managers found a perception that despite well publicized government anti-corruption efforts in 2013 (and several major prosecutions) there was no noticeable decline in government corruption in 2013. That bothered the government a great deal and appeared to motivate better performance in 2014.

December 17, 2014: The navy announced that the government has agreed to provide the money for the purchase of two frigates, two helicopters and three gunboats. The navy has firms in over half a dozen countries bidding on these projects. Purchase contracts are to be signed in early 2015 but delivery of all these items is several years away. While miniscule compared to the Chinese naval expansion, the Filipino effort is meant to show China that the Philippines will not just roll over in the face of continued Chinese aggression in the South China Sea. What the Philippines needs is more powerful allies, like the United States and Japan to step up and back the Filipino efforts to halt Chinese moves.

December 15, 2014: China ignored the Permanent Court of Arbitration deadline for submitting a response to Filipino accusations about Chinese aggression in the South China Sea. This could result in a legal decision against China by 2015 even though China has indicated that it will not abide by any such ruling. Challenging such a decision exposes China to trade sanctions, which would stall economic growth and create a recession that could cause unrest. Chinese leaders are eager to avoid that. Meanwhile China is threatening to use force to enforce its claims. In particular the Chinese wants a detachment of Filipino marines, 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. 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 initial response from China was constructing 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. Historically China has a weak claim because for centuries powerful Chinese empires ignored expansion into the South China Sea or any islands far from their shores. Official U.S. policy is to try and get everyone to calm down and be less provocative. 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. Now China is warning the world that it is ready to escalate but is afraid that the world will call their bluff. The Philippines may be militarily weak, but in the Permanent Court of Arbitration the odds are more even and China has responded with an effort to simply ignore the court.

China continues demanding that nine Chinese fishermen, arrested in May for poaching off the Filipino coast be released. China insists that these fishermen were in Chinese waters even though, according to international law the Chinese were closer to the Philippines and in Filipino waters. The Philippines imposed fines and other charges of $103,000 per poacher and insists that this be paid before the men are freed. So far China refuses to pay and the nine Chinese remain in prison.

December 9, 2014: In the south (Jolo Island) Abu Sayyaf released a Chinese businessman they had kidnapped seven months ago. The Chinese government got involved in negotiations for the release of the Chinese man and it is assumed that a ransom was paid. Elsewhere on Jolo a local teenager escaped nine hours after he was kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf. Aby Sayyaf will kidnap locals from families with some wealth, but the largest ransoms come via foreign captives. Currently Abu Sayyaf is hold there of these (from Holland, Japan and Malaysia). Elsewhere in the south (Bukidnon province) BIFF bombed a bus, killing eleven people. A similar bombing took place in November and both incidents are believed related to BIFF efforts to raise money via extortion. These bombings also further BIFF efforts to cancel the peace deal with MILF.

December 8, 2014:  Another major typhoon hit the south (the islands of Samar and Masbate) over the weekend creating a disaster zone with electricity out and many roads rendered impassable. Troops were sent to protect aid workers from NPA rebels that operate in the area and have been known to rob aid workers, even in the aftermath of major disasters. Typhoons (Pacific hurricanes) are regular events for the Philippines which is a few hundred kilometers west of where most of them originate. In 2013 the areas was hit by Typhoon Haiyan which turned out to be exceptionally strong, with winds of over 310 kilometers an hour (surpassing a record set by an Atlantic hurricane that hit the United States in 1969). Typhoon Haiyan killed over 7,000 people (and injured three times as many) in the Philippines and caused over a billion dollars in damage. Most of this was caused by a record winds and a 4.5 meter (15 foot) storm surge that flooded areas that had previously been immune to this kind of storm damage. Over two million people are cut off from food supplies. Nearly as many have been forced from their homes and many of those homes are now damaged or destroyed by the winds and floods. This year’s Typhoon Hagupit is a major storm, but much less lethal than Haiyan. Still, deaths may be more than a thousand and property damage extensive. This is particularly bad for areas that took a beating 13 months ago when Haiyan came through and were again hit this year by Hagupit.

December 7, 2014: In the south (North Cotabato) ten NPA rebels attacked a construction site causing over $200,000 in damage to equipment there. A local watchman was also kidnapped. The NPA were punishing the construction company for not paying "revolutionary taxes" (extortion) to the NPA. This is how NPA finances itself and as a result of these attacks the army high command has ordered more efforts to protect companies working down there. This sort of activity discourages economic growth in the south, which has long lagged behind the rest of the country in economic activity.  

December 6, 2014: In the south (Sulu Island) a Swiss man held by Abu Sayyaf escaped during an attack by army artillery that distracted the Islamic terrorists guarding him. He grabbed a machete and wounded the guard closest to him and then ran. He was shot and wounded while fleeing but kept going and was soon found by advancing soldiers. His wound was tended to and he expects to be home for Christmas. The Swiss man was kidnapped on nearby Tawi Tawi Island in 2012. His travelling companion is still being held for ransom.

December 4, 2014: In the south (Basilan Island) troops attacked an Abu Sayyaf camp, killing three Islamic terrorists and wounding eight others. Seven soldiers were wounded as well. One of the dead terrorists was a known Abu Sayyaf leaders with a $12,000 reward for his death or capture.

December 3, 2014: In the south (Bukidnon province) NPA rebels ambushed some soldiers, killing four of them. The troops attacked were rushing to act on a tip that NPA was going to attack a construction site. Thus the ambush site was soon swarming with more troops. The leftist rebels fled, leaving one of their dead behind along with some weapons and several backpacks. This indicated that they took some wounded with them.

December 1, 2014: In the south (Maguindanao province) three BIFF rebels were killed during an attack on an army patrol. Three soldiers were wounded.  The thirty of so BIFF men soon fled when they discovered that the soldiers they attacked were part of a larger force of 72 troops who soon converged on the sound of the gunfire. Elsewhere in the south (Surigao del Sur province) NPA men ambushed some military vehicles and killed four civilians and wounded four others. The vehicles were being used to take civilians to and from religious services. Later that day NPA ambushed more military vehicles in the same area, killing one soldier and wounding several others. 

 

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