February 8, 2023:
The Philippines will now allow the United States to use four Filipino bases and undertake joint patrols with Filipino forces in disputed areas of the South China Sea. The Philippines already had an MDT (mutual defense treaty) with the United States but it is not always adequate to deal with Chinese tactics. American government priorities can change radically every four years because of presidential elections. The current U.S. president is seen as less steadfast in dealing with China and Russia. The Americans did join NATO efforts against the Russians so the Philippines hopes that extended to increased aggression from China in the South China Sea. Now American policy towards actively supporting the Philippines in dealing with the Chinese threat has changed. China criticized this increased American support because it might make the situation worse. For Filipinos the situation can’t get much worse and more American support will, at the very least, slow down the Chinese.
In the South China Sea China is deliberately attacking the livelihood of Filipino fishermen. Not just by blocking fishermen from their traditional fishing grounds, but also by deliberately destroying improvements the Filipinos have made to improve their catch. This includes sinking old ships or other structures near reefs to attract more fish. Chinese sand dredging efforts (to build more artificial islands) will often deliberately destroy these improvements while dredging. The Chinese ignore official protests and demands that the harassment cease. If the new joint American-Filipino military patrols intervene the Chinese will declare it unwarranted aggression and threaten to retaliate. These have been the Chinese tactics in the South China Sea all along. At this point, Chinese describing themselves as victims is ludicrous but an accurate description of how the Chinese operate. Not just against the Philippines but other nations in the region, including India along the Tibetan border. These tactics have worked so far, but they have led to the formation of an alliance of victimized nations to oppose China. This includes the United States. Having the Americans involved makes armed resistance to Chinese aggression more likely. Chinese strategy largely avoids open warfare but the anti-Chinese coalition is making that difficult to avoid if the Chinese keep pushing. China depends on its new and more powerful armed forces, especially a large navy that China has never had before, to intimidate victims. The American naval and air force presence blocks further Chinese progress and pushes the Chinese back in some areas.
Philippine Islamic terrorist activity, mainly in the Moslem south, is rapidly disappearing. The autonomous Moslem regional government plays a role in that, encouraging Moslems to resist, not aid the remaining Islamic terror groups. The government offers amnesty to those who surrender and are not accused of serious crimes like murder or kidnapping. This has played a major role in reducing the number of Islamic terrorists still active. Since the autonomous Moslem Bangasamoro area was created in 2014, diehard separatist groups like BIFF, ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) and Abu Sayyaf were treated as outlaws in Bangasamoro and continually lost support and members since 2014, but are still around though not nearly as actively as they were before 2014. Bangasamoro security forces cooperate with the army to find and shut down these outlaw groups. Since 2014 this joint effort has largely eliminated Abu Sayyaf, BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters) rebels and several smaller Islamic terrorist groups. These groups have not disappeared, but have become much less active because of declining membership.
The government is also trying, without much success, to negotiate a peace deal with the communist NPA whose leadership, as well as the commanders of various Fronts (groups of NPA members) are split on which peace terms are acceptable. 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 and 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.
Corruption is still a major problem that has defined many efforts to curb it. The latest (2022) annual Transparency International Corruption Perception Index shows that the Philippines continues to be as corrupt as it has been since 2021, with a corruption score of 33, versus 34 last year. This means the Philippines is still stuck in the middle of the list. Transparency International measures corruption on a 1 (most corrupt) to 100 (not corrupt) scale. The nations with the lowest score are currently Syria, South Sudan and Somalia with scores of 14 or 15. The least corrupt nations are currently Denmark and New Zealand, each with a score of 88. In 2022 the Philippines 116th out of 180 nations rated. In 2020 that was 115th out of 180 nations compared to 113th in 2019, 99th in 2018 and 111th in 2017. There has been some improvement in the last two years, but not enough to stop corruption from crippling the economy and cause a lot of highly-trained Filipinos to leave the country to work elsewhere. This has had some very tangible benefits for the Philippines, though it significantly reduces domestic economy activity.
Many families have kin living abroad and sending money back to their family. This is a major economic factor for many Filipinos. Ten million Filipinos work overseas and send money home. These remittances are currently about $33 billion a year, which is about nine percent of national GDP. In effect, a fifth of the Filipino workforce is employed outside the Philippines and twelve percent of households in the Philippines depend on remittance income. That is, 20 percent of the Filipino workforce produces only 9 percent of GDP. This is the price of Filipino corruption. Another widespread cost is inflations, which is currently higher than it’s been in the last fifteen years. The visibly escalating cost of staples like food and common consumer goods is very visible and widely felt. For many educated Filipinos it’s another reason to seek work outside of the country.
Filipinos are very popular overseas workers because of their energy, skills and ability to speak English well. There are no comparable jobs at home for all this talent because of the corruption that stifles economic growth. Worldwide Filipino remittances income has the greatest impact on the home country. Two other nations (China and India) receive more remittance income ($60-70 billion each) but both these nations have far larger populations and GDP.
February 1, 2023: In the south (Samar province) soldiers encountered a force of about 20 NPA rebels and defeated them. This led to the capture of many weapons and much ammunition and other items as the survivors fled. The army obtained details about this particular case from a senior NPA official that was captured earlier.
January 27, 2023: In the north (Quezon province) NPA gunmen fleeing soldiers, planted some landmines, which wounded one of the pursuing soldiers. The army is clearing the NPA from the area because the communist rebels have become gangsters rather than social rebels. NPA uses extortion a lot, but calls it “revolutionary taxes". This is how NPA finances itself and as a result of this activity there are plenty of civilians willing to call in tips about NPA activity.
January 19, 2023: In the south (Negros Occidental province) hundreds of civilians fled areas where the army and NPA rebels were fighting since yesterday. The army and local government provide temporary shelter and support for the refugees. The NPA tried to make a comeback in this area but army intelligence was monitoring the situation and informants warned that NPA was recruiting again. Soldiers and police went after the recruiters and the army took on the few armed and organized NPA groups left.
January 12, 2023: In the north (Cavite province) a long police investigation identified and arrested a senior Abu Sayyaf intelligence officer. He is believed to be involved in several bombing and other terrorist attacks.
January 9, 2023: In the south (Sulu province) the leader of the provincial Abu Sayyaf forces surrendered along with over twenty of his followers. The Abu Sayyaf men brought their weapons with them and turned them over to the army.