Philippines: This Changes Everything

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May 14, 2016: Rodrigo Duterte won the presidential election. Duterte is different, in more ways than one. He was not expected to win because he did not have the support of one of the wealthy parties or wealthy political donors. He was an outsider who promised change, had a convincing track record in local politics and ran a highly effective and inexpensive campaign. Duterte is not from one of the old, rich and corrupt families that have dominated Filipino politics for centuries. He is a lawyer, served as a prosecutor and then mayor and considered quite competent, but very unorthodox and not bothered with breaking laws to do what his constituents want. This was made clear during the 22 years he was mayor of Davao City (population 1.5 million) in the southeast. This part of the south is largely Christian, most of the Moslems are in the southwest. Until Duterte got elected in the 1990s Davao City was an economic mess and had one of the highest crime rates in the country. The local government was corrupt and Duarte said he would fix it. He did, but not by using methods anyone expected. His most alarming tactic was to approve the use of death squads to murder criminals caught in the act. In the past bribes and a well-connected lawyer could get the worst criminals set free. No more. The use of death squads by powerful men was not unusual in the Philippines, especially in the south. So Duterte was able to get away with it. Soon people realized that he maintained control of the death squads and the crime rate plunged after about a thousand accused criminals were murdered. Duterte also cracked down on corruption in general and hired competent economic and business advisors to create an economic boom. Duterte describes himself as a socialist but not anti-business.

Davao City is now the safest city in the country and one of the ten safest in the world. The economy continues to prosper and the rest of the country was envious. One thing led to another and Duarte ran for president and won big. This is expected to shake up the Philippines more than any new president has for decades. Most Filipinos want less crime and more prosperity, which, if Duterte is true to form, he will concentrate on first. He has promised major movement in these areas by the end of the year. Meanwhile the Moslems of the southwest are waiting to see what he will do with their stalled peace deal and autonomy agreement. Duterte kept Islamic terrorists out of Davao City and southerners are hoping he will put an end to Abu Sayyaf and other Islamic terrorists. Duterte gives China hope that they can negotiate a deal that will help cement Chinese claims to the South China Sea. Duarte is known to be pragmatic and is willing to get a deal done with the leftist NPA rebels, who have been very active in the south, but were kept out of Davao City. Some think he will take the same hard line against China. Duterte is also hostile to the United States, mainly for the problems he encountered with American officials after a 2003 explosion in a local hotel. Duterte now expects answers. This could get complicated as the U.S. is beginning to move troops back to five old military bases U.S. forces departed from in the 1990s. A 2014 agreement brings many of those forces back, mainly to deal with the Chinese threat. Duterte takes power at the end of June and will serve for six years.

May 13, 2016: In the south Abu Sayyaf released four Indonesian sailors they had been holding. On May 1st ten others were released. It is feared that Indonesia has been quietly paying Abu Sayyaf ransoms. The Philippines have been trying to prevent anyone (the Malaysian and Indonesian governments or the shipping companies) from paying Abu Sayyaf ransom for the 18 sailors Abu Sayyaf had recently seized. The hostages were taken from three tugboats that were attacked between March 24th and April 15th by Abu Sayyaf which demanded a million dollar ransom. The army believed the Indonesians are being held on Sulu Island but a major search operation failed to find them. Abu Sayyaf has previously left alone the shipping that keeps the southeastern islands (like Basilan and Sulu) supplied but the Islamic terrorist are broke and desperate for cash. The Philippines forbids the payment of ransoms to Abu Sayyaf, especially multi-million dollar ones (demanded for foreigners) because that kind of money enables the Islamic terrorist group to survive and even expand and kill more people. The government has ordered a major military effort to rescue the hostages and get the kidnappers. This latest kidnapping campaign is causing a lot of problems in the south because seagoing traffic between the southern Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia has been halted temporarily. The United States and Britain have both warned their citizens to stay away from the southern Philippines until the kidnapping threat is eliminated. Abu Sayyaf is demanding $8 million or more for the release of each of its few Western captives and threatened to murder of one of these captives if they didn’t get their money by the end of April. The government is determined to see that no ransom is paid for any hostages, especially foreign ones who command much larger payments. This is the cash that keeps groups like Abu Sayyaf going.

April 28, 2016: In the south (Jolo) the military announced that air and ground patrols indicated three days artillery attacks on remote Abu Sayyaf camps had killed at least 14 of the Islamic terrorists and forced many more to keep moving. This is part of an intensified effort to find and free the remaining three hostages. Elsewhere in the south (Maasim) police raided a hideout used by the AKP (Ansar Khilafa Philippines) which is another Islamic terrorist group that is allied with Abu Sayyaf. Two AKP men were killed and a large quantity of weapons, explosives and ammo were seized.

April 26, 2016: A Japanese helicopter carrier visited the Philippines. This is the second time this month Japanese warships have paid a visit. This time it was the “Ise” one of a new class of Japanese warships. Ise was launched in 2009 and it is described as "helicopter-carrying destroyer". These are 188 meter (610 feet) long, 18,000 ton warships that operate up to 11 (mostly SH-60) helicopters from a full length flight deck. Although called a destroyer, it very much looks like an aircraft carrier. While its primary function is anti-submarine warfare, these ships also give Japan its first real power projection capability since 1945. These are the largest warships built in Japan since World War II. The Japanese constitution forbids it to have aircraft carriers, which is the main reason it is called a destroyer. That, and the desire to not make the neighbors anxious. East Asian nations still have bad memories about the last time Japan had lots of aircraft carriers. The Ise also has 16 Mk41 VLS (Vertical Launch System) cells for anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles. There are also two 20mm Phalanx anti-missile cannon and two triple 12.75-inch torpedo mounts. There is a crew of 350 and a top speed of about 60 kilometers. Vertical takeoff jets like the Harrier and F-35B could also operate from the flight deck. There are two of these Hyuga class ships in service and larger ones planned. Ise remained in the Philippines for three days, taking part in some joint training with the Philippines Navy.

April 25, 2016: In the south (Jolo) Abu Sayyaf left the head of a Canadian hostage on a city street. Abu Sayyaf had threatened to kill a hostage if their multi-million dollar ransom demands were not met. The government announced that the hunt for the killers and the remaining hostages would intensify.

 

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