Philippines: Falling Into Peace

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October 14, 2019: Violence in the Moslem south continues to decline. Abu Sayyaf, the Sulu based group that was long the main source of violence, has been much diminished. At this point, Abu Sayyaf is more of a criminal gang than an Islamic terrorist group. There is still some piracy and a lot more purely criminal activity to raise cash. That is why the civilians down there are more helpful. The widespread cell phone service helps because it is so easy to phone in the information.

The army is also getting more help from local militias, mainly those belonging to the MILF. Another factor is BARMM (Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) gaining voter approval earlier in 2019. This led to the disarmament and demobilization of MILF militias, a process that will not be complete until 2022. In the meantime, these MILF forces are expected to help deal with organized crime and Islamic terrorists operating near them. Most of the MILF militias began as local defense forces and now that is their primary function until they are demobilized, with many members ending up as local police.

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. 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 BARMM capital.

The Islamic terror groups down south, particularly ISIL, are battered and depleted but still active. ISIL rebuilding efforts are hampered by the continued military patrols seeking the dwindling number of camps these groups use for training and building bombs and other devices. Diehard anti-BARMM groups like BIFF have been ISIL associates since 2014 and still finding recruits among young Moslem men looking for some violent excitement. Many Moslem clerics still preach that this sort of violence is justified when Moslems feel they are under attack. Within ISIL the Philippines is no longer a prime destination of ISIL specialists seeking refuge. The areas where Islamic terrorists could set up camps are now part of BARMM and increasingly monitored by former MILF members waiting to become local policemen. Abu Sayyaf is no longer very active as pirates or kidnappers because avoiding the security forces has become a full-time job. The leftist NPA is still present and active in the south but these rebels are operating more like gangsters than political operatives. This has led to fewer new recruits while more of the younger, idealistic, members either surrender to the government or simply walk away.

China Lite

The threat from Moslem separatists, Islamic terrorists and leftist rebels is much diminished, but the major threat to the Philippines remains Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea. Chinese warships and naval militia ships continue to cluster around Filipino islands that China claims. But since the trade war with the United States accelerated earlier this year and the continuing (since mid-2019) separatist violence in Hong Kong grows, the Chinese have been less aggressive in the South China Sea. The Chinese have not stopped expanding and militarizing their new islands and are getting ready for another round of forceful intimidation and blockade against those who, like the Philippines, resist Chinese claims.

October 10, 2019: In the south (Agusan del Norte), police arrested an NPA leader and two of his associates. This came after an investigation into reports that some known NPA personnel were operating in an urban area.

October 9, 2019: In the south (Sulu), soldiers, responding to a tip from local civilians, encountered a group of armed Abu Sayyaf and during the brief firefight a known Abu Sayyaf leader was killed and his wife, also an Abu Sayyaf member, was wounded and captured.

In the capital, police arrested 503 illegal aliens, most of them Chinese, were arrested. This comes after a similar arrest of about 500 Chinese illegal aliens in September. In both cases, those arrested were participating in a large Internet-based crime operation. A decade ago t he Philippines became a hotspot for computer hacking groups, and for nearly a decade the computer crime gangs were able to survive by bribing the right officials. Only when the cybercrime involved Islamic terrorism did the bribes not work. In 2016 the government legalized online gambling operations although Filipinos were forbidden to play. There was also an effort to eliminate a lot of the bribery that often caused things like online gambling to become more of a problem than economic benefit. This time around the Filipino police have been able to act and corruption and criminal activity associated with online gambling are more likely to result in lots of arrests and prosecutions. Many of these recent arrests were the result of information provided by the American FBI, which had been investigating international computer and phone fraud and the hackers behind it. China has also provided information about Internet-based criminals preying on individuals and businesses in China. So far this year 1,500 illegal aliens have been arrested, most of them Chinese. This is compared to 500 illegal aliens arrested for all of 2018. So far this year there have been 1.5 million Chinese visitors to the Philippines, most of them tourists.

October 5, 2019: The government revealed that some senior officers in the security forces (including at least two generals) were suspected of having been or still being involved in the drug trade. One of these generals is believed to be the head of the national police who unexpectedly announced his retirement recently. The anti-drug operation that has been going on since mid-2016 has reduced the crime rate and shattered many of the local networks that distributed drugs. Information gathered from the thousands of dealers and low-level distributors arrested has provided more and more evidence of corrupt government, police and military officials involved. This often involved protecting local drug dealers or getting those arrested out of jail. Another major form of corruption was made possible by senior police officials who were able to get large quantities of seized drugs sold back to distributors. Senior police officials could certify the stolen drugs as “destroyed.” This scam is believed to have implicated the retiring national police commander. All these drug and corruption arrests have made the anti-drug war popular with the majority of Filipinos.

October 3, 2019: In the south (Maguindanao province), local MILF militiamen spent several hours fighting BIFF Islamic terrorists before the enemy fled into the jungle, taking their dead and wounded with them. The MILF forces lost seven dead. This clash was between a BIFF faction that had been carrying on a long-time feud with the local MILF militia. These violent feuds are more common in the Moslem south than the rest of the country.

October 2, 2019: The navy is ordering Spike ER missiles for use on their small MPAC (Multi-purpose Attack Craft). These missiles first arrived in 2018 for use from helicopters but experiments, in late 2018, using them on MPACs proved successful. Three of the new MPAC 35 ton coastal patrol boats were used for the tests. The Spike ER missiles have a range of 8 kilometers and are “fire and forget.” It’s similar to the U.S. Hellfire missile. This is effective against small craft but not against larger warships. MPAC boats are used for coastal patrol and are likely to encounter pirates, Islamic terrorists or smugglers who are armed and inclined to shoot back. The Spike ER is seen as a long-range antidote for that.

September 27, 2019: In the north (Quezon City), police arrested a known Abu Sayyaf leader and found he was carrying an illegal pistol. The man had been recognized by a civilian who called the police. Abu Sayyaf has been sending people north for several years in an effort to organize terror attacks in the capital and surrounding area. Not much success and a growing number of Abu Sayyaf personnel killed or captured after they arrive.

September 26, 2019: In the south (Zamboanga City) police arrested four Abu Sayyaf men who were apparently planning bomb attacks against a major Catholic religious event that takes place at the end of the month. The four men were from Sulu province (150 kilometers to the southwest) and were caught with explosives and other weapons. Police got tips about this possibility. Over 60 percent of the 860,000 Zamboanga City residents are Catholic and they are a favorite target of Islamic terrorists in the south.

September 23, 2019: In the south, across the Sulu Sea off nearby Malaysia (Sabah) Abu Sayyaf pirates attacked a Malaysian fishing boat and kidnapped three Indonesian men. They stopped another fishing boat as well but did not find anyone worth kidnapping. The families of the three Indonesians were contacted by the pirates a week later to discuss ransom and those discussions are still underway, Filipino security forces are searching for the pirates and their captives. Both the Philippines and Malaysia discourage the payment of ransom as it only encourages more attacks.

September 22, 2019: In the south (Basilan province), three Abu Sayyaf members surrendered, bringing their weapons with them. The surrender was arranged by a local village leader.

 

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