The legislature appears unwilling to approve the peace treaty with the Moslem rebels down south. This has always been a possibility because there are still Islamic terrorists active in the south and the Moslem population down there is obviously not united in wanting to abide by the treaty. In September the Moslem separatist group MILF agreed to proceed with the peace deal even if the legislature does not approve all aspects of the autonomy package. Countrywide there is a lot of popular opposition to the MILF autonomy deal in the south and even MILF accepts that they will never have the votes in the legislature to get everything they want. The major problem down there in that a sizable minority of southern Moslems (ten percent or more) want to hold out and keep fighting to establish a separate Moslem state in the south. MILF leaders know this is impossible because a majority of the people in the south are opposed. That includes a majority of the Moslems and the nearly all the non-Moslems down there. Moslems are only eight percent of all Filipinos, and represent an even smaller proportion of the economic activity. MILF wanted control of more of the economy, which meant control of "ancestral Moslem areas" in the south that are now populated by Christians. The Christian majority in the legislature refused to allow domination by Moslems in a larger and more autonomous Moslem south. MILF settled for a smaller autonomous area that had a Moslem majority. This issue is still a big deal for many Moslems and could still turn into an armed rebellion against MILF and the collapse of the plan for an autonomous Moslem area in the south. So far MILF has kept things under control, especially after a January 2015 clash that left 44 police commandos dead. Meanwhile thousands of soldiers and marines in Basilan are still trying to put down of the only large group of Islamic terrorists (Abu Sayyaf) left in the country. These guys have not expanded much mainly because they are basically bandits with a veneer of Islamic radicalism. Abu Sayyaf is mostly about the money but they will cooperate with real Islamic terrorists as it suits them. There are over half a dozen known Islamic terrorist groups in the country but these all have fewer than a hundred (or a few dozen) members each.
China is openly ignoring the deliberations of the Permanent Court of Arbitration regarding accusations that China is acting illegally with its claims in the South China Sea. That may backfire because most other nations are not. The court will not deliver its final ruling until mid-2016 and already China is finding that all its economic bribes and military threats are not diminishing the growing international condemnation of the Chinese claims. The Philippines, America, Australia, Japan and South Korea openly oppose the Chinese. Other nations in the area (Taiwan, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia and India) were more discrete but just as opposed. Meanwhile the Philippines and its closest neighbors are slowly losing control of their offshore waters to increasingly aggressive Chinese claims. If all these claims were enforced the Philippines would lose control of 80 percent of its waters in the West Philippine Sea while Malaysia loses 80 percent of its coastal waters off Sabah and Sarawak. Vietnam loses half its coastal waters while Brunei loses 90 percent. Even Indonesia loses 30 percent of its coastal waters facing the South China Sea. These losses include several known offshore oil and natural gas fields and a number of areas that have not been explored yet plus lucrative fishing grounds and control over vital shipping routes. China is doing all this by ignoring the 1994 Law of the Sea treaty (as well as at least two other similar treaties. The widely adopted (including by China) 1994 agreement recognizes the waters 22 kilometers from land “national territory” and under the jurisdiction of the nation controlling the nearest land. That means ships cannot enter these "territorial waters" without permission. More importantly the waters 360 kilometers from land are considered the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the nation controlling the nearest land. The EEZ owner can control who fishes there and extracts natural resources (mostly oil and gas) from the ocean floor. But the EEZ owner cannot prohibit free passage or the laying of pipelines and communications cables. While this agreement eliminated or reduced many of the existing or potential disputes it did not completely deal with all of them. Thus some nations keep violating the agreements, usually because they feel their claims supersede the EEZ treaty. China is the most frequent offender. For example China claims that American electronic monitoring ships are conducting illegal espionage while in the Chinese EEZ. But the 1994 treaty says nothing about such matters. China is simply doing what China has been doing for centuries, trying to impose its will on neighbors, or anyone venturing into what China considers areas that should be under its control. China is not alone, but because China is pushing the limits of how the 1994 law can be interpreted (or misinterpreted) other nations with similar opportunities to lay claim to crucial chunks of the seascape are ready to emulate China if some of the more aggressive Chinese ploys actually work. This is one reason why China faces strong opposition from nations worldwide.
The Philippines and Australia recently agreed to increase cooperation in dealing with Islamic terrorism. Australia is mainly concerned with its growing number of Moslem migrants who have proved to be the main source of Islamic terrorist activity in Australia. The Philippines does not have many Moslem migrants but is particularly vulnerable because over two million Filipinos work in the Middle East. While most of these are not Moslem they are under constant pressure to convert and over 200,000 have converted to Islam since the 1970s. Increasingly these conversions are forced. Most of these conversions are not sincere but these jobs are the main income for many Filipino families and the workers will do anything to remain employed. Some of the conversions are sincere and this makes the new converts easier for groups like ISIL to recruit. A much smaller number of overseas Filipinos work in Australia but the two countries want to pool their information on Islamic terrorism to make it more difficult for Islamic terrorists to enter each other’s territory.
Six years after a clan related massacre in the south left 58 dead 21 policemen who were there and did nothing were fired for their inaction. Over a hundred other people are being prosecuted as well but the court proceedings are moving very slowly. Such is the power of clan warlords in the south. Meanwhile the government tried to act in other ways. In 2012 the government ordered the national police to eliminate the many private armies and get it done by 2013. That has not happened. Because of the Ampatuan clan militia massacre in 2009 the government was forced to acknowledge the existence of private armed groups, or PAGs. Official attempts to identify and count PAGs quickly found over a hundred of them. The existence of PAGs is embarrassing because many of these private militias are controlled by local politicians who support the national government and were allowed to form (often with help from the army and national police) these armed groups to help in the fight against Moslem (MILF) and communist (NPA) rebels. Many of these militias have been around for over half a century and their leaders are often local landlords or businessmen. This mix of politics, economics and private militias often went rogue, as was seen to horrific effect in 2009. Many of the PAGs continue to receive weapons, training and other assistance from the government. The problem has been the lack of supervision, mainly because the national level politicians did not want to offend their local supporters by questioning how the private armies were used. Often PAG members were used to intimidate voters during elections, or for purely criminal activities. The identified PAGs had about 4,000 members. About half the PAGs are recognized as participating in illegal activities, the government is under increasing pressure to crack down. These illegal activities have been an open secret for decades, but prosecuting the PAG leaders means taking on powerful local families, who provide political and economic support for national political parties and politicians. Since 2010 about a quarter of the PAGs were disbanded, and half the known PAG members dismissed. The remaining PAGs have resisted disbanding. Part of this has to do with the large number of illegal weapons many of these fighters use. There are believed to be three million firearms in the country of 90 million, but 40 percent of these pistols and rifles are unregistered and illegal. Getting rid of the PAGs won’t get rid of all the illegal weapons.
December 9, 2015: The first 77 of 114 used American M113 armored personnel carriers arrived in the Philippines. These are refurbished but the Philippines will also upgrade some of them, mainly those in need of another refurbishment. In 2014 an Israeli firm was hired to rebuild the structural, mechanical and electrical elements of 28 older M113s. This also included installing fire control systems as well as night vision sensors along with GPS, intercom and radios. The Philippines had the turrets from 14 of its decommissioned Scorpion reconnaissance vehicles installed in most of these vehicles. These two man turrets are equipped with a 76mm gun that can provide excellent infantry support. Four of the M113s were equipped to tow damaged vehicles or carry casualties and all 28 M113s were back in service by early 2015. M113s are a 1960s design but proved very sturdy and useful and many nations still use them. Used M113s are particularly popular because they are cheap and easy to maintain and upgrade.
December 5, 2015: In the south (Sulu) a much wanted (for recently beheading a Malaysian man held for ransom) Abu Sayyaf leader was arrested along with an associate. The November beheading outraged Malaysia, which asked the Philippines to extradite the killer (and the guy he was arrested with) for trial in Malaysia. This request is apparently going to be honored, mainly because of treaty obligations. The beheading was officially to protest the anti-Islamic terrorist policies of Malaysia but many believe it was mainly because the victim’s family was apparently unable to come up with the ransom the kidnappers demanded. Abu Sayyaf is currently holding three foreigners (two Canadians and a Norwegian) and wants $20 million for each of them. The government is trying to prevent that ransom from being paid because money like that keeps Abu Sayyaf going. Thus the security forces down there are energetically searching for the three foreign captives. This angers Abu Sayyaf but the government doesn’t care.
November 25, 2015: In the north (Cavite province) two NPA men were arrested, one of them a senior leader of the leftist rebel group. Police revealed that valuable documents were seized as well.
The United States announced that it had increased its military aid to the Philippines to $79 million for this year. Since 2002 America has provided over half a billion dollars in such aid to the Philippines. Originally the U.S. was only providing the Philippines with $50 million in aid for 2015 but has increased it to help deal with the growing Chinese threat. In 2016 the Philippines will be receiving a frigate (a retired and upgraded coast guard ship), a support ship, eight amphibious assault vehicles, two C-130s and much more.
November 24, 2015: In the south (Sultan Kudarat province) marines clashed with a group of Islamic terrorists and after a 45 minute battle most (over twenty) of the enemy fled. Left behind were eight dead members of ISIL (al Qaeda in Iraq and the Levant) along with weapons and ISIL propaganda and flags. The dead men were believed to be members of Islamic terror group Ansar Khalifah. This is one of five groups in the Philippines that have declared allegiance to ISIL but have not received official recognition from ISIL in response. The five groups want official recognition because that means ISIL will provide some aid (cash, personnel, weapons and so on). The other four groups are Abu Sayyaf, BIFF (renegade MILF faction) RSIM (Rajah Solaiman Islamic Movement) and KIM (Khilafah Islamiyah Mindanao). One of the eight dead was a much wanted Islamic terrorist bomb builder; Ibrahim Alih. He began his Islamic terrorist carrier with JI (Jemaah Islamiyah, an Indonesian Islamic terrorist group that has been largely destroyed in Indonesia since 2012.) 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 are known to have received sanctuary from Abu Sayyaf, MILF and BIFF. Pressure from the military apparently made MILF decide to cut ties with Islamic terrorists, but not to turn them over to the government. Ansar Khalifah is believed to have three Filipino Moslem members who spent time with ISIL in Syria. About a hundred Filipinos have gone to join ISIL in Syria and some have returned.
November 22, 2015: In the south (outside Davao City) troops clashed with a dozen NPA gunmen and after a brief gun battle, one rebels was dead and the others had fled, moving much gear behind.