There has been an outbreak in violence in the Southern Philippines precipitated by the Abu Sayyaf group (ASG).
Following a lucrative kidnapping by the ASG of an Italian priest Father Bossi (rumors say one million dollars ransom was paid) the ASG have managed to throw a monkey wrench into peace negotiations and encourage two local Muslim groups into attacking the Philippine military.
Here’s a summary of the groups. If your eyes glaze over, just remember they are all linked to one another via clan ties and ideology and corruption.
The MNLF have a peace accord since 1996, the MILF is seeking a peace accord.
Many clans have connections with both groups and with the more “militant” Abu Sayyaf Group that makes money via kidnapping and extortion. The ASG is related to Al qaeda, so has connections with the Indonesian J.I. group who were behind the Bali bombings and fled to the Philippines.
Philippine Marines looking for Father Bossi were attacked, and members left behind killed and beheaded several weeks ago.
An immediate military strike would have allowed the Philippine military to wipe out these rogue units, but this was stopped by political pressure from Islamic groups who insisted an “investigation” needed to be done, and by Canada and Japan, who threatened to stop aid money if the military retaliated.
As a result of the perceived weakness on the part of the Arroyo government, there have been several major ambushes by the MILF and the MNLF against Philippine military units who were hunting the Marine’s killers in the ASG.
So what might have been a small strike against the Abu Sayyaf group on Basilan Island is spreading, as the ASG members flee into other areas. I suspect the large ransom paid to them for the release of Father Bossi allows them to hire soldiers and bribe locals, but officially no one else is mentioning this.
So reports that the MILF is gathering on Basilan is not a good sign.
What is making a lot of people sit up and notice what is going on is that US Special Forces have been spotted accompanying the various Philippine patrols. Any whisper of US involvement makes the local left sputter in rage. LINK
By law, the US is not allowed to have soldiers fight in the Philippines, so there are various explanations including they are merely “training” Philippine soldiers, they are “giving intelligence” information, or even “they are scouting the area in preparation for next year’s training exercizes”.
Of course, what they are doing there is advising by making sure the expensive new military equipment stays with the patrols and is properly used, and of course using electronic spying techniques to trace the guilty.
There are other ways that the US is helping to stop terrorism in the southern Philippines.This GMA audio report discusses how a recent US arrest of an Indonesian who was funding the more militant groups in Mindanao who were behind several local bombings.
But the Arroyo government has to balance the peaceniks who think everyone is logical and good with the reality of local groups that break truces and the reality of an angry military and their families wanting payback. LINK2
Then there is the left: the Left hates America, and will object to US Special forces. And the left is powerful in the Philippines, since it is the group that stand up for the average person’s rights and includes many church leaders, both Catholic and Protestant.
Yet the left, who want economic improvement and to stop corruption so that the common person can become prosperous, have little in common with the aims of the Muslim militant groups.
These “militant” groups all are related and have an aim of making Mindanao a Muslim independent state using Sharia law and allowing the local warlords/plutocrats to continue to exploit the local population. But what about those Muslims who do not want the present situation of feudal poverty to continue? And what about the many Christians living in those areas? Giving in is not an answer, especially since some militant Islamicists see all of the Philippines as once being Muslim, and so an area to be reclaimed by the caliphate.
So the peace accord talks continue, but the fighting goes on.
And the rest of us will shrug and say bahala na, figuring we are more in danger from dengue fever than being a victim of bombing of a mall. -
Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.