President Duterte, speaking to regional leaders in Tokyo on May 31th asked the question everyone was concerned about; why is China claiming all of the South China Sea? The official Chinese position is that they are not claiming but reclaiming what is historically theirs. The Chinese historical documentation for this is fake and China responds to fakery accusations by declaring it all the result of foreign conspiracies. Duterte has never been shy about his desire to have good relations with China but the South China Sea claims are getting in the way with that for the Philippines and just about every other nation that borders the South China Sea. There are other problems out there besides the territorial ones. China also denies recent accusations that their new island bases are jamming satellite phones used by Filipino Coast Guard vessels that come by. China also denies complaints about Australian helicopter pilots, operating from Australian warships in the South China Sea, being hit with blinding laser beams sent from Chinese ships and island bases. The Chinese laser blinding efforts have been brought up before, about Chinese warships operating off the Somali coast and in nearby Djibouti. The satellite phone jamming is new but that would be possible because this year China has installed a lot of additional EW (Electronic Warfare) equipment on its South China Sea artificial islands. China refuses to discuss or negotiate any of their claims and that is destabilizing the entire region because none of the nations victimized by this aggressive territorial seizure is content to just do nothing. The Americans seem to have put China in a negotiating mood because of longstanding accusations of unfair Chinese trade policies and patent and other data theft. Other nations, including Russia, have also suffered from this but not to the extent the Americans have and suddenly China is finding that these actions do have adverse consequences. Because of the South China Sea situation, China has no local supporters and now Chinese ally Iran is threatening to shut down oil exports via the Persian Gulf, which would mainly hurt China and other Asian oil importers (including India). For the Philippines, this provides some interesting opportunities. America is once more a major oil and natural gas exporter and largely insulated from oil exporting problems in the Persian Gulf. Now the Chinese are willing to talk to the Philippines. Nothing may come of this but it’s a move in the right direction.
Taming The Terror
Ground, air and naval forces are making life more difficult for the Islamic terrorists still operating in the south (especially Sulu, Jolo and Basilan provinces). Over the last three years, these operations have reduced the number of Islamic terrorists down there and with that the amount of violence. Abu Sayyaf has been unable to pull off any pirate attacks in 2019 and the army is searching for and finding the last few hostages held for ransom. While Abu Sayyaf has been unable to carry out pirate attacks they are still able to smuggle people in and out of Indonesia and Malaysia via the Sulu Sea. Even that is under attack because this had enabled Abu Sayyaf to bring in ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) veterans to reinforce the depleted local supply of Islamic terrorists. That ISIL smuggling effort has been disrupted. The Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia cooperate in counter-terrorism matters, including coordinating naval and air patrols in the Sulu Sea and quickly shutting down any Islamic terrorist activities any of the three nations uncovers.
A major source of Moslem unrest in the south has been eliminated because of the
BARMM (Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) was approved by voting earlier in 2019 and the interim leader, Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, is implementing the disarmament and demobilization of the MILF armed forces. Ebrahim will be in charge until elections are held in 2022 and by then the MILF armed forces are supposed to be gone. Since February, armed members of MILF have been responsible for local security although the Filipino armed forces still handle most of the counter-terrorism operations, especially against ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant), Abu Sayyaf and BIFF. Demobilized MILF gunmen will be recruited for BARMM police. BARMM consists of Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi provinces, as well as the cities of Marawi, Lamitan, Cotabato and 63 villages of North Cotabato province. The city of Cotabato will be the capital.
Most of the remaining Islamic terrorists down south are hostile to BARMM and that the feeling is mutual. The Islamic terrorists want a BARMM that is an independent country run as a religious dictatorship. Most BARMM residents prefer democracy and are willing to fight, or at least inform on, Islamic terrorists to help make BARMM work. BARMM residents also want the counter-terror forces gone but accept that this will not happen until Islamic terrorist numbers are reduced to such a small number (perhaps under a hundred) that BARMM security forces can realistically handle the problem. BARMM police will continue working with the military (which BARMM will not have) to monitor Islamic terrorist activity in nearby Moslem nations like Malaysia and Indonesia. At the moment BARMM is still considered something of a refuge for foreign Islamic terrorists. That has to change because if it doesn’t the people of BARMM will suffer the most from Islamic terrorist violence.
Communists Abandon NPA
In the south (Agusan del Norte and Mindanao) 23 members of the NPA (the illegal armed wing of the local Communist Party) have surrendered and accepted amnesty since early June. Many brought their weapons with them. In addition, 69 members of various communist party NPA support groups also turned themselves in and often provided information on the specific NPA groups they had assisted. This mass defection of communist party NPA supporters shows why most NPA units must now depend on extortion, theft and other criminal activity to survive. This is causing much anger and protest in areas where the NPA still operates “for the good of the people.” Yet the NPA can no longer do much political work when their very survival is at risk. The government is trying, without much success, to negotiate a peace deal with the NPA. The leadership, as well as the commanders of various armed factions, are split on a peace agreement and most are continuing to operate (fighting and stealing). The NPA, to most Filipinos, have become bandits with a veneer of communist ideology to justify their crimes. The banditry option is not working well enough to assure the long-term survival of the organization. This can also be seen when factions run short of money. Those actions begin to suffer from desertions. The army will grant amnesty to NPA members who surrender, especially if they bring their weapons and some useful information with them. Information on where NPA camps or weapons storage sites are considered useful and the fact that more NPA camps are being attacked and weapons storage sites seized indicates that the NPA is losing secrets as well as people and popular support. Some NPA leaders feel this is all a temporary setback and that a peace deal would enable a revitalized Philippines Communist Party to become a major political power. These delusions make negotiating a peace deal more difficult. Meanwhile, the NPA has become a major source of criminal (as opposed to Islamic terrorist) activity in the country. Most of the NPA senior leadership live in Europe and are considered somewhat out of touch with the reality of what the NPA has become in the Philippines.
Elsewhere in the south (near Jolo Island) nine fishermen kidnapped off nearby Malaysia (Borneo) by Abu Sayyaf on the 16th were released into shallow water. They waded ashore and walked until they encountered a police patrol. Abu Sayyaf apparently concluded that they could not obtain any ransom for the poor fishermen who, it turned out, were Filipinos living illegally in Borneo.
June 21, 2019: In the south (Negros Oriental), about twenty NPA gunmen attacked a local volunteer defense group and were repulsed, leaving two dead behind. Police and army reinforcements arrived to help the volunteers track the fleeing NPA men.
June 19, 2019: Police revealed that an Indonesia ISIL member arrested in late May was the one who was in charge of smuggling in additional Indonesia ISIL members via associates in nearby Malaysia (Sabah), which is just across the Sulu Sea from the southern Philippines. Among those smuggled in were the four suicide bombers that took part in the recent Easter Sunday attack against a church in Jolo.
June 13, 2019: In the south (Oriental Mindoro), a group of NPA rebels were spotted by a local civilian who notified the local army base. Troops soon arrived and found that the NPA had established a training camp for new recruits. A gun battle developed and before the surviving NPA escaped three of them were killed, including their leader. The bodies were left behind along with a lot of weapons, equipment and so on. The fleeing NPA apparently took their wounded with and the soldiers and local police continued the pursuit.
June 6, 2019: In the south (Reed Bank, 230 kilometers off the coast of the Philippine's Palawan Island), a Chinese trawler, a member of the Naval Militia, collided with a Filipino fishing boat and moved on while the Filipino boat sank. The 22 Filipino fishermen were rescued by a Vietnamese fishing boat. China tried to deny this ever happened but there was too much evidence (and witnesses) and after about two weeks China offered to participate in a joint inquiry of the incident and why it happened. This deliberate Chinese attack (according to the Philippines) took place among the Spratly Islands in an area that is well within the internationally recognized Filipino EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) that extends 380 kilometers from the coast of Palawan Island (one of the large Filipino islands that China does not yet claim). Over the last few years, China has blocked Filipino efforts to explore for oil and natural gas deposits believed to be in the area and increasingly used their paramilitary naval militia (of trawlers and over civilian ships hired by the navy) to intimidate and threaten to collide with non-Chinese ships that enter the area. The Philippines agreed to the inquiry which will publicize the Chinese tactics and growing use of intimidation and actual violence to get their way.
May 31, 2019: In the south (Sulu province) a Dutch hostage of Abu Sayyaf was killed when he tried to escape while his Islamic terrorist captors were under attack by army troops. The Dutchman had been kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf in 2012 in nearby Tawi Tawi province, along with another Dutchman and their Filipino guide. The other two had managed to escape since then but Abu Sayyaf kept their last foreign captive, hoping they would eventually get a large ransom. The Filipino government warned that such ransoms were now illegal and that they had thousands of troops searching for the few remaining Abu Sayyaf captives. Abu Sayyaf will, as they did in this case, shoot dead a captive trying to escape, especially while the Islamic terrorists are under attack. Before the two-hour gun battle ended Abu Sayyaf suffered six dead and twelve wounded. The soldiers captured the Abu Sayyaf camp and several of the Islamic terrorists.