Philippines: Everything Under The Heavens

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May 7, 2020: The Philippines has suffered six covid19 (coronavirus) deaths per million population so far and has 91 known cases of the virus per million people. In early April the government ordered a nationwide lockdown to halt the spread and make it easier to treat those who have it. So far so good. Neighbors Malaysia have 199 cases and three deaths per million, Singapore has 3,452 confirmed cases per million and three deaths per million while Indonesia has 45 cases per million and three deaths per million. The Philippines has the advantage of having no land borders with any other nation. Moreover, the Philippines consists of 7,600 islands, which further limits the spread of the virus.

Covid19 does not appear to have spread to the thousands of Chinese living on existing and artificial islands in the South China Sea that China has claimed and is holding by force against international law and international court decisions affirming the Chinese occupation is illegal. China has offered to assist the Philippines in dealing with covid19 as long as they don’t call it the Wuhan virus. China is currently trying to suppress news of the disease inside China, where many locals report their government is not reporting the continued presence of the virus and the growing number of infections and deaths. China is trying to shift blame for the virus to the United States. People in Wuhan find this hard to believe because it was a local doctor who first noticed covid19 in December 2019, raised the alarm and was promptly silenced by the government for “spreading rumors.” The doctor later died of the virus and has become a folk hero to local Chinese.

Diseases similar to covid19 are common in China and scientists analyzed covid19 and found 80 percent of it was identical to the earlier (2003) SARS, a less-lethal covid type virus that also originated in China. Filipinos don’t trust China, especially given the way the Chinese have handled the outbreak of the Wuhan virus and its subsequent spread.

The economic impact of covid19 has been less in the Philippines than in most other nations. For the first three months of 2020 Filipino GDP declined 0.2 percent versus late 2019 estimates of growing about three percent.

May 5, 2020: The government is buying six AH-1Z helicopter gunships from the United States. This includes training, accessories, weapons, spare parts and long term tech support. With all that each AH-1Z will cost $75 million. AH-1Z is the most recent model of the AH-1T/W attack helicopters. The production model AH-1Zs are newly built rather than rebuilt from older AH-1W gunships. The AH-1Z has an airframe good for over 10,000 flight hours and uses a new four-bladed composite rotor system, transmission, strengthened structural components, and modern digital cockpit avionics. The 8.3 ton AH-1Z has two engines and is armed with a three-barrel 20mm Gatling gun (and 750 rounds) and up to eight Hellfire missiles or 28 similar but smaller APKWS missiles. It can also carry two Sidewinder air-to-air missiles. Electronics include radar warning, missile warning and day/night vidcams that work with helmet-mounted displays. The AH-1Z can operate around the clock, in all kinds of weather. Sorties last about two hours each and cruising speed is 248 kilometers an hour. Currently, the Philippines only has 25 older MD500 lighter armed scout helicopters as well as eight more recent AW109 armed scout gunships. Jordan has also donated two old AH-1F gunships that will arrive this year.

May 4, 2020: China is demanding that Vietnamese and Filipino fishermen comply with a Chinese ban on fishing in the South China Sea from now until August 16th. Since the 1990s China has only enforced the ban on Chinese fishing ships but this year is threatening to arrest Vietnamese and Filipino fishermen who do not comply. The purpose of the ban is to allow the fish to breed and maintain their numbers. Overfishing was caused by China which subsidized a large ocean going trawler fleet which often fished illegally in foreign waters. Chinese trawlers still do that, as far away as South America and Africa. But the first target of this illegal fishing was EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) waters that extend 380 kilometers from the coasts of nations bordering the South China Sea. When these nations sought to drive the Chinese poachers away China began sending warships in with the poachers to deter local authorities from interfering. The EEZ concept was established by an international treaty that China signed. In the case of the South China Sea China claims that the EEZ treaty does not apply because the South China Sea is traditional Chinese territory and China is reasserting ownership. There is no historical evidence for this claim but China insists it is true and is increasingly threatening to use force to keep the legal owners of EEZ waters out. Vietnam and the Philippines are calling on all EEZ nations to help prevent China from violating the EEZ agreement.

May 3, 2020: In the south (Maguindanao province) some troops out enforcing the covid19 quarantine were ambushed by BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters) gunmen. Two soldiers were killed and one wounded. The BIFF force took their wounded with them and fled. BIFF considers itself part of ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) and has been under constant heavy attack since late 2018. Fewer than a hundred members remain active and constant army patrols maintains the pressure that reduces that number relentlessly. BIFF was originally formed to oppose BARMM (Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao), the autonomous Moslem region, because they considered it insufficient. Since it was finally created in early 2019 BARMM has proved very popular among Moslems and that meant much less support for groups like BIFF.

May 2, 2020: In the south (Agusan del Sur) soldiers clashed with NPA gunmen twice, leaving two leftist rebels dead and one soldier wounded. Troops seized weapons and ammo.

May 1, 2020: The NPA ended its unilateral 36 day ceasefire, created to allow covid19 related medical activities to proceed unhindered. The government had its own covid19 ceasefire from March 19 t0 April 15. NPA leaders claim the army violated than one as well.

April 30, 2020: The government protested China declaring two portions of the Filipino EEZ. China declared an artificial island built on Kagitingan Reef (part of the Kalayaan Island Group) is now the Nansha district while Woody Island (in the Paracels) is now the Xisha District. An international tribunal ruled against China and affirmed that Chinese claims in the South China Sea violated existing treaties that China had signed as well historical precedent that sided with the Philippines.

April 28, 2020: In the south (Sulu province) an army patrol encountered some Abu Sayyaf gunmen and after a brief battle one Islamic terrorist was dead and one soldier wounded.

April 24, 2020: In the south (Sulu province) Abu Sayyaf gunmen clashed with MNLF (a local pro-government militia) militiamen, leaving three Islamic terrorists dead and seven militiamen wounded. MNLF men often help the military find Abu Sayyaf captives and camps. In this case, Abu Sayyaf set up a camp 400 meters from an MNLF base.

April 23, 2020: In the south (Sulu province) Abu Sayyaf gunmen fought with a group of soldiers sweeping the area looking for the Islamic terrorists. The Abu Sayyaf group was soon forced to disperse, leaving three dead behind and apparently fleeing with many wounded. Three of those wounded were believed to have later died. Eight soldiers were wounded.

April 21, 2020: The Philippines Navy revealed that in late February a Chinese corvette aimed its cannon at a Filipino corvette (a former South Korean Pohang class ship) when the Filipinos ordered the Chinese to leave the area near Commodore Reef, which is part of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. Commodore Reef is recognized by international treaty as Filipino but the Chinese corvette kept telling the Filipino corvette that the area they were in was Chinese territory. The Chinese corvette kept moving and left the area, continuing to insist the area was China but obviously not willing to open fire and try to enforce the claim.

April 19, 2020: In the central Philippines (Masbate province) and in the south (Negros Occidental province) troops clashed with NPA rebels. Four soldiers died and five were wounded. In both situations the leftist gunmen fled, taking their wounded with them but leaving some weapons and equipment behind. In one case the soldiers disrupted NPA plans for an attack on a nearby town.

April 18, 2020: In the south (Sulu province) troops fired at a motorcycle carrying two Abu Sayyaf gunmen. One of the Islamic terrorists was killed and the other one, apparently wounded, fled into the bush.

April 17, 2020: In the south (Sulu province) Abu Sayyaf gunmen ambushed an army force, killing eleven soldiers and wounding 14 others. The Islamic terrorists got away apparently unscathed.

April 12, 2020: In the south (Maguindanao province) seven armed members of BIFF surrendered to the army.

April 8, 2020: China sent a coast guard ship to Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. At this point China had warships guarding all the disputed areas in the South China Sea. Since 2012 China has periodically posted warships (coastguard or navy) to enforce their claims. In 2017 China built an environmental monitoring station on Scarborough Shoal, which is 220 kilometers from one of the main Filipino islands (Palawan) and 650 kilometers from Chinese territory (Hainan Island) and according to international law (and a recent international court decision) is Filipino. The Chinese say they have prior claim to most of the South China Sea and basically dares the rest of the world to try and stop them. This makes sense to most Chinese because the Chinese have long called China Zhongguo, which is usually translated into English as “middle kingdom”. But a more literal and accurate translation is “everything under the heavens.” Until the 21st century, this mainly meant adjacent land areas. But now China points out that “everything” means the South China Sea as well.

 

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