Philippines: Plague Panic Pause Persists

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December 9, 2020: The economic recession caused by covid19 did more damage than earlier predicted. Now it is believed that there will be an eight percent decline in the GDP for 2020. This compares to an average 6.6 percent annual GDP growth from 2015 to 2019. GDP growth is expected to resume in 2021 with 6-7 percent GDP increase and 2022 with 6-10 percent. The difficulty in dealing with the post-covid19 economic recovery is that it is being exploited by China, who offers large investments in return for less official criticism about Chinese asserting their ownership of the South China Sea. Otherwise China has, like other threats to the Philippines, been less active this year because of covid19.

The covid19 panic has forced most local rebel and Islamic terrorist groups to be less active. Yet the army and police efforts to destroy them continue at pre-virus levels. The smaller Islamic terror groups still make some attacks but overall have been idle most of the year. The war on drugs continues as do efforts to reduce corruption. Both these projects have made progress but there is still much to be done. Filipinos are more concerned with the economy than with Islamic terrorist or communist violence. Politicians are acting accordingly. Everyone is focused on the economy and the fact that covid19 was more panic than plague. So far this year covid19 deaths in the Philippines have amounted to 79 per million people. Nearby Indonesia had 66 per million, Malaysia 12, Singapore 5, Taiwan 0.3, Japan 19 and South Korea 11. China does not release reliable covid19 data and continues to suffer sporadic outbreaks. The global average is 200 deaths per million. This is based on what nations report. That data is often incomplete because of inability to accurately track the covid19 impact or, less frequently, because local politics prohibits releasing the data. There are no global standards for classifying which deaths can be blamed on covid19. The covid19 death rate was more than a hundred times larger for the 1918 Pandemic and not much higher (if that) than two subsequent (1957 and 1968) strains of influenza.

December 8, 2020: The U.S. is providing with $29 million worth of military equipment including sniper rifles and equipment for detecting roadside bombs. A used, but refurbished, C-130 transport will also be delivered by the end of the year.

December 7, 2020: The navy is building a naval air base in the north (Central Luzon) to provide easier surveillance of the offshore Benham Rise, which Chinese ships have been investigating. Back in 2018 the government changed its policy on allowing foreign research vessels to study the Benham Rise, 250 kilometers off the east coast of the Philippines. In 2012 the UN agreed that the resource rich Benham Rise was indeed part of the Philippines coastal waters and the name was then changed to the Philippines Rise. This offshore entity is basically an underwater volcano that did not turn into an island. It is a large (250 kilometers square) plateau that is in an area where most of the water is 5,000 meters deep. But the rise is mostly 3,000 meters high and a “peak” rises out of that plateau and reaches to within 50 meters of the surface. The rise is a rich fishing area but also may have underwater oil and gas deposits. China has never made a claim on the Benham/Philippines Rise but that could change if the payoff were large enough. China had asked permission to send a research ship to study the area and at first the Philippines agreed. But the public reaction was hostile to that, given the Chinese aggression off the west coast in the South China Sea. Because of that reaction the Philippines withdrew that permission and banned any foreign research vessels from studying the Philippines Rise unless they received specific permission. Foreign fishing vessels are banned from the Philippines Rise as well.

December 6, 2020: The army is seeking approval for the purchase of 28 Guarani 6x6 wheeled armored personnel carriers from Brazil. These would cost $47 million and the budget might not be able to handle this right now.

December 5, 2020: In the south (Tawi-Tawi province) three Abu Sayyaf members surrendered, separately, with their weapons and sought to take advantage of the 1995 amnesty program. For that to happen the three have to answer any questions interrogators put to the about their Abu Sayyaf activities. The three were known Abu Sayyaf members and had all participated in some kidnapping operations and other crimes. This is the second surrender of Abu Sayyaf men in the last 24 hours. Yesterday 36 Abu Sayyaf members surrendered in nearby Sulu Province.

December 4, 2020: In the north (Central Luzon) a senior leader of the NPA (New Peoples Army) was found and arrested. NPA is a leftist rebel group that has been on the decline for the last few years. At one time the NPA had a lot of popular support but since the 1970s their armed activities have left over 50,000 dead and not produced any positive results. The NPA has always caused far more death and destruction than the Moslem separatists down south, even if you include the more recent Islamic terrorist factions like Abu Sayyaf. In many ways the NPA is its own worst enemy. An example of this occurred in 2019 when the NPA undertook a major operation down south in Negros Oriental province to terrorize local politicians into cooperating with them. Dozens of local officials were killed or wounded, usually by NPA death squads that attacked the homes of politicians, tried, and often succeeded in killing the officials and then yelling “long live the NPA” as they left. The 2019 intimidation effort failed but was deemed necessary because the NPA has been suffering a massive decline in popular and communist party support. Increasingly most NPA units must 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 which peace terms are acceptable 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 long-term survival. 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 the location of NPA camps or weapons storage sites is 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 maintained its status as 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.

December 3, 2020: In the south (Maguindanao province) gunmen attacked a police station but were repulsed with no casualties to the defenders. A police car was set on fire by the fleeing attackers, who were believed to be members of BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters). This group was originally formed to demand independence for the Moslems in the south. By 2014 the majority of Moslems and Christians in the Philippines agreed to an autonomous Moslem region on the southwest coast of Mindanao (the large southern island) and the string of smaller islands (Sulu, Basilan, Tawi, Tawi) extending from southwestern Mindanao towards Malaysia. The new Moslem entity (Bangasamoro) has more autonomy, but makes the Moslems down there responsible to maintaining the peace. This is no small matter because, more than elsewhere in the Philippines, the Moslem south has long had many more clan militias that believed it was their right to engage in private wars. Not all the clans share the official attitudes about who has the right to make war in Bangasamoro.

Bangasamoro governs the four million Moslems in Mindanao. Down there the Moslems are outnumbered by Christians who had moved south during the last half century. Nationwide there are about 11 million Moslems and over 90 million Christians. The Christian Filipinos are better organized, more industrious and more economically successful. The Moslems believe they should run Mindanao even if they are the minority, because Mindanao is the local "Islamic homeland." While some in the government are willing to concede this, the Christian majority in Mindanao (and the rest of the Philippines) does not. Because of this groups like BIFF, ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) and Abu Sayyaf are treated as outlaws in Bangasamoro and have lost support and members since 2014, but are still active.

November 23, 2020: A national survey earlier in the year showed that the number of illegal drug users had declined to 1.7 million (1.6 percent of the populations). In 2016, when the War On Drugs began, over four percent of the population was using illegal drugs. Half the respondents backed the violent tactics used during the anti-drugs campaign.

November 13, 2020: In the south (Zamboanga del Norte province) an army patrol encountered ten armed NPA rebels. There followed a 45-minute gun battle as the rebels sought to escape. Most of them did but one was killed and several captured. The dead man turned out to be a senior leader of the local regional NPA.

Elsewhere in the south (South Cotabato province) police encountered armed resistance when they went to arrest a known member of the Daulah Islamiyah Islamic terror group. They found their man, as well as five of his Islamic terrorist associates. All were killed in the subsequent gun battle. Two policemen were wounded. ISIL activity in the Philippines is provided by about five small factions (like Daulah Islamiyah) and a larger one (Abu Sayyaf).

 

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