The government is pressing the United States to provide more direct military aid and assistance in resisting growing Chinese pressure to assume control over islands and reefs that, according to international law are Filipino. The American commanders want to help but current U.S. policy is to avoid confrontation with China. Meanwhile China continues to insist that its claims on the South China Sea, including territory existing international law recognizes as belonging to Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and others are justified by historical precedent and there is no disputing that. In fact China is using its growing military and economic power to bully any opposition into recognizing Chinese claims.
The current anti-corruption effort is producing results, but at a high cost to journalists. At least seven have been murdered so far this year, mostly because of work related to corruption. This has been encouraged by the growing number of corruption prosecutions. But many of the targets of these investigations are used to getting their way, and using violence when they don’t. President Aquino, like many politicians before him, promised to do something about corruption when he took office in 2010. Since then there has been a noticeable increase in corruption prosecutions. As a result foreign investors report encountering far less corruption while doing business in the Philippines. While Aquino is pleased with this even he has admitted that the spreading use of the Internet and smart phones in the Philippines played a major role. These two communications tools made it possible for many Filipinos to easily document and report corrupt acts. The Aquino government encouraged prosecutors to make good use of this evidence and they have. There is still corruption but those who indulge have to worry much more about getting punished.
September 10, 2015: A court has officially designated Abu Sayyaf an Islamic terrorist group. This is the first time the Philippines has designated a local group as Islamic terrorists. Abu Sayyaf has been around since the early 1990s, initially as a radical breakaway fringe group of the larger Moslem separatist MILF. At first Abu Sayyaf was more outlaw than Islamic terrorist but that has gradually changed as the group developed more links with Islamic terrorist groups around the region and the world. This ruling makes it easier to monitor and prosecute Abu Sayyaf members. There are believed to be about 400 Abu Sayyaf in the south. While they commit some terrorist acts (usually ineffectual bombings) mostly they use money from ransoms and extortion to get by. But they also provide sanctuary for foreign Islamic terrorists and that makes them a larger threat. This year there has been a major effort to sharply reduce the size and capability of Abu Sayyaf. But this comes after more than a decade of army and marine presence in Jolo and Sulu provinces. That was the reaction to Abu Sayyaf making millions of dollars by kidnapping foreigners after 2000 and all that cash made them a much more powerful terrorist organization. But the increased military and police pressure in the south made it difficult to grab any more foreigners and the money from those lucrative crimes was soon gone and a new supply of cash was needed. This led to kidnapping locals (mainly non-Moslems, which was more acceptable to the Moslem majority population) and extortion (especially of businesses owned by non-Moslems. Thus Abu Sayyaf is became more of a bandit problem than a terrorist threat. Years of aggressive patrolling in the Moslem south by thousands of soldiers and marines have disrupted the group's ability organize and carry out attacks elsewhere in the country. The military concentrated on the islands where Abu Sayyaf initially came from. This is the Sulu Archipelago in the southwest, particularly the islands of Basilan, Jolo and Sulu. In this area the Islamic radicals still have lots of fans. But these terrorists are not folk heroes to everyone down there, mainly because Abu Sayyaf supports themselves via kidnapping, extortion and robbery and that disrupts the economy. Moreover a growing number of local Moslem civilians are victims of these crimes, or collateral damage. Abu Sayyaf is fading away because of all this, but slowly, because the region has always sustained a certain amount of banditry.
September 9, 2015: In the south (Sulu) troops pursuing Aby Sayyaf terrorists found one of the groups’ shelters in the jungle. Medical supplies, bomb making components and communications equipment were also found. Soldiers believe the group they are chasing contains some of the Islamic terrorists wounded in the major clash on August 28th.
September 6, 2015: In the south (Basilan) a small bomb went off outside a police station. There were no injuries and Abu Sayyaf was suspected because the Islamic terrorists have threatened reprisals for the continued army and police pressure over the last few months.
September 3, 2015: The U.S. has ordered four 10 meter (two 30 foot and two 34 foot) patrol boats for the Philippines national police maritime patrol force. These boats will be built in the United States and delivered by November. This is part of an ongoing foreign aid effort that has supplied the Philippines with over a dozen small coastal patrol boats in the last few years.
August 28, 2015: In the south (Sulu) a running battle between troops and over a hundred Abu Sayyaf men left four Islamic terrorists dead and at least fifteen wounded. Ten soldiers were also wounded as the battle continued into the next day. This clash was the after effect of a battle in the same area on the 19th.
August 27, 2015: In the south (Compostela Valley province) an NPA rebel and a soldier were killed in two clashes between troops and a ground of about a hundred leftist rebels.
August 22, 2015: In the south (Davao del Sur province) NPA gunmen burned eight construction vehicles in four different locations. The NPA was punishing the construction company for not paying "revolutionary taxes" (extortion). 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 NPA activity discourages economic growth in rural areas.
August 19, 2015: In the south (Sulu) troops encountered a group of 80 Abu Sayyaf gunmen and that led to an attack on an Abu Sayyaf camp. All this left fifteen Abu Sayyaf men dead and allowed two coast guard sailors being held prisoner to escape. In the last two months the military has been applying constant pressure in the area to find and free at least eleven kidnapping victims the Islamic terrorists are holding. Kidnapping for ransom has become the major source of income for Abu Sayyaf. In neighboring Basilan province two Abu Sayyaf men were killed in a clash with troops. One soldier was killed and one wounded.