War is breaking out at several different areas in the Southern Philippines.

First it was some Marines searching for Father Bossi who were ambushed and 14 killed and mutilated by the AbuSayyaf with the help of local MILF on Basilan Island; now there has been skirmishes and ambushes of the Philippine army in Jolo, again when they were searching for the Abu Sayyaf criminals and/or JI terrorist from Indonesia, but this time the army was attacked with help from the MNLF, a local group that has had a peacetreaty with the government since 1996.

So now we read that a bigshot general is being sent down to coordinate things, while these various groups are using their foreign friends to pressure the government not to attack but to talk peace… never mind that they are harboring criminal gangs that have been increasingly active in terrorizing innocent Philippinos, both Muslim and Christian, in recent months.

So what is happening?

Well, up to now, the fight against the AbuSayyaf has been quite sucessful, and their numbers went down from 1000 in the year 2000 to about 200 this year. The govenment had made peace with the MNLF, and was nearing a peace accord with the MILF.

Now all of a sudden, peace has collapsed. And the question is why.
Was the reported one million dollar ransom money paid to the Abu Sayyaf for the kidnapping of Father Bossi essentially destablizing the region? Or has there been another source of money that has not yet been reported, and the successful kidnapping and ambush of the marines merely increased their glamour and notoriety in the region, enabling them to attract help?
Oh yes, everyone denies Italy paid ransom for Father Bossi, but this is the Philippines. A lot of different shenannigans may or may not have occured to get the good father released, but one thing is certain: to stop it from happening again, Father Bossi was sent back to Italy and the bishops have now agreed to stop sending foreign missionaries to that area.

Italians are easy targets to get money, whereas kidnapping American Baptists just result in US Special forces spying on your text messages when you order pizza and helping the Pinoys to chase you all over the jungle.

But in an area where poverty is rampant, the AbuSayyaf’s lucrative kidnapping and extortion schemes make employment with them attractive to may: why work in the rice paddies when you can carry a gun to impress the girls while earning P20thousand a month ($400)? Especially when the government is being pressured by peace groups in Europe and Islamic groups from Malaysia and the middle East to seek”peaceful solutions” to the conflict (AKA ignore all the kidnappings, extortion, and murders, and allow the feudal clan leaders milk profits from all that aid money supposed to help poor farmers).

StrategyPage’s cynical analysis is about right:

Clan politics and Islamic radicalism (MILF and Abu Sayyaf) get mixed up with organized crime, and that’s what makes the violence and corruption in the south so difficult to deal with.  None of the armed groups in the south want law and order imposed, and are threatening a major uprising to prevent this. Most people in the south, however, would like a change. The clan and warlord politics have a lot to do with the relative poverty of the Moslem south, compared to the rest of the country.

The bad news, of course, is that the Philippine government is also corrupt on many different levels. But although the Moro politicians and the left wing part of the media aare active at trying to spin on local talk shows, a lot of people are getting tired of the spin and wanting action.

And the fact that 35000 people have already fled the area in anticipation of the fighting is not something that will benefit anyone (we are in the middle of rice season, so this means their fields will be unattended). Yet how can the government continue to ignore the mounting chaos, since the military is angry, and there is always the danger of military coups in the back of everyone’s mind.
So in a nutshell, to save one priest the Southern Philippines might end up back in a cycle of war.

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