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Old 06-20-2009   #41
Dayuhan
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The reality is of course, is that "it's complicated."

On this we agree.

We must get straight with the central government before we can get straight with the problem in the south. (Same, by the way is true in Afghanistan, Pakistan and many other places).

The problem is that "getting straight" with each other is not a thing that governments and politicians are particularly keen to do. I'm not one, so I don't pretend to understand their rationale. Far easier to focus on some secondary or tertiary manifestation of poor governance, and send the military in to "resolve" the problem there instead.


I suspect that the problem is not entirely a need for the US and Philippine Governments to get straight with each other. What is needed is for the Philippine Government, and the Philippine governing class, to get straight with their own people, and to confront the reality that the traditional prerogatives and privileges of the Philippine governing class (primarily effective exemption from the law) are fundamentally incompatible with effective governance. US objectives in the Philippines will not be achieved until this happens, and there is very little the US can do to make it happen. This has caused a lot of frustration and will cause a lot more.

Military victory - or at least a level of dominance that could pass for victory - has been achieved in Mindanao on a number of occasions. Without effective governance, the conflict simply re-emerges, often in more radical form. Effective governance cannot be achieved while those who govern are above the law and are free to use that privilege to advance their personal interests.

Realistically, even with effective governance the Mindanao conflict would be very difficult to resolve. Without it.... close to impossible.
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Old 07-01-2009   #42
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Default Some comments on the cited article; quotes in italics:

The older Moro National Liberation Front fragmented into factions after the group and the Filipino government signed a peace treaty in 1996…. it disaggregated a large insurgent group into multiple factions

This is simply wrong. The MILF split from the MNLF began in 1977, in Jeddah, during negotiations between the MNLF and Philippine Government representatives. Hashim Salamat and other Maguindanao and Maranao MNLF leaders, upset at the way MNLF Chain Nur Misuari was handling the negotiations, tried to take over leadership of the organization. Misuari denounced them as traitors and expelled them. They set up their own group, the “New MNLF”, and formally initiated the MILF in 1984. The Abu Sayyaf formed in 1990-91.

This is not obscure information, it’s available to anyone with access to Google and 5 spare minutes. I find it disturbing that an article like this can be published apparently without the slightest attempt to check basic facts.

This is not a minor detail. The presumption appears to be that this process of “disaggregation” disables the insurgency. If you look at the actual track record in Mindanao since the split, the disaggregation has made the fight more difficult. “Disaggregated” groups, such as the MILF and ASG, are more radical, less susceptible to negotiation, and more inclined to associate with international terrorist groups. Recently the MILF itself has shown a tendency to splinter, with disaggregated groups proving to be less inclined to engage in a peace process, more violent, and more inclined to harbor JI terrorists. They are also not necessarily easier to defeat, either militarily or politically. The failure of the MILF Central Committee to bring back any results from its negotiations and generally more moderate stance has enhanced the prestige of the breakaway radicals and raised the possibility that the entire organization may shift in that direction.

Abu Sayyaf is an international terrorist organization with ties to al Qaeda and part of the global insurgency being waged from New York to Iran, from Iraq to Afghanistan, from Pakistan and Thailand to Indonesia and the Philippines. Two other networks – for they are that more than armies – are Moro separatists…

This is a glib oversimplification that has been reappearing in many of the more superficial articles published on Mindanao. The MILF’s ties to JI and AQ are deeper and more continuous than ASG’s. The MILF often disowns ASG and publicly announces withdrawals from areas where operations against ASG are ongoing, but at the same time the MILF or some of its constituent parts will be cooperating with ASG, and with groups like the Pentagon and Al Khobar gangs, which do exactly the same things as ASG but are generally referred to as criminal syndicates, rather than terrorist groups.

ASG has been through a series of discontinuities in both leadership and agenda, wandering across a continuum between Islamist terrorism and outright banditry. ASG has reached its peak in manpower and influence in its purest bandit incarnation: ASG’s expansion in 2000-2002 was a consequence of large ransom payments, not a sudden burst of enthusiasm for jihad. ASG has been most effective as a terrorist group when its manpower resources and territorial control have been severely constrained, and at one point military success against the bandit incarnation of the ASG generated greater connections to foreign terrorist groups and a return to a terrorist agenda.

This article does not seem to have been supported by much real research into the backgrounds and histories of these organizations – bearing in mind of course that much of the secondary source material on these issues is highly questionable and based on information from individuals and institutions with vested interests in a particular presentation of events.

The battles between the AFP and Abu Sayyaf and MNLF make the papers, but they miss the real story of the counterinsurgency in the Philippines. The real story is the movement of the populace away from support for conflict and toward a support for the peace processes. This has followed “a shift in strategy since April,” according to Raphael, to focus on what are called civil military operations, which focus on dealing with problems afflicting the people. “A lot of the villages have insufficient water,” the general said. “They have no schools. We are doing massive infrastructure projects.” Acting in cooperation with the JSOTF-P, the AFP have held numerous meetings at which medical treatment is provided to anyone who showed up, with any problem that could be handle in the field. The AFP has built schools and community centers…

Meanwhile, the villagers – deciding whether to support the guerrilla – examine the situation based on their self-interest. If the government defends their interests and does not oppress, the villagers often choose prosperity over conflict. If the government is corrupt and suppresses the things they care about, the people often support an insurgency.


The problem with this formulation is that the government IS corrupt. Corruption is institutionalized and embedded, and has been for generations. Why do you think there are no schools, water systems, or health care; why do you think these projects are necessary? Corruption is not just a matter of appropriating money, imposing huge kickbacks, etc. Virtually every politician on Mindanao maintains a private armed force accountable to nobody but the boss. These forces are used to ruthlessly suppress dissent and political or economic competition.

This corruption cannot be fought by training or education of civilian and military officials. Corruption exists not because leaders aren’t aware of its adverse affects, but because it is extremely profitable, and because an entrenched culture of immunity has virtually eliminated risk associated with corruption.

Corrupt officials do not have horns and tails. The articulate, sophisticated politician who parrots back all the rhetoric of international development for beaming American visitors is likely to be the same one who’s been raiding the treasury, collaborating with bandits, and maintaining a squad of goons to make sure nobody interferes with personal interests. The officer who recites COIN dogma and speaks earnestly of hearts and minds may be the same one who has sold arms to the ASG, taken cuts of ransom payments, and participated in a list of human rights violations as long as your arm – if you’re Yao Ming. The guy sitting next to him in the same uniform may be completely straight, but he will never rat out the guy sitting beside him, partly because the culture of institutional loyalty forbids it, partly because talking too loudly can endanger a career, and at times a life.

The US has an advantage here that it lacks in many GWOT theaters. Aside from a tiny cadre of ideologues, the anti-US rhetoric of the Islamic fundamentalists has very little traction in Mindanao. Philippine Muslims generally don’t care about Israel and the Palestinians, American influence in Saudi Arabia, or American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan: their concerns are a lot closer to home. They do appreciate the projects, though they know quite well that the money isn’t coming from the Philippine government. More than that, they appreciate the impact that the US presence has had on the Philippine military: a Muslim cleric related by marriage to a senior ASG leader once told me that the human rights performance of Philippine troops is “1000 times better” when Americans are around.

The US has won some hearts and minds. The problem with that is that the US is not a party to the conflict. If this change is to mean anything, the respect earned by the US has to be transferred to the Philippine government, and that is not happening. People will tell us whatever we want to hear as long as we’re the big dog on the block, but everyone down there knows that the Americans will leave, and when they do the same people who have been ripping them off and kicking them in the teeth for the last 40 years will still be in control.

You cannot measure progress in Mindanao by Commanders killed or captured, or by transient territorial gains, or by forced rearrangements of the alphabet soup of insurgent acronyms: all this has been done before, with little to show for it in the long term. A better measure of progress would be evidence that the culture of impunity that lies at the core of Mindanao’s institutionalized crisis is finally being addressed. A real indication of progress would be a few Congressman, Governors, Mayors, Generals successfully prosecuted for corruption and collusion with terrorists and criminals, private armed forces disbanded and their members called to account for their crimes, members of Christian militias prosecuted for killing Muslim civilians. The first challenge faced by the Philippine Government is not to defeat insurgents, but to bring its own representatives within the rule of law.

US forces cannot “win” the fight in Mindanao. All they can be expected to do is to create a secure space for the Philippine Government to step in, not with cosmetic projects but with real reforms in governance. Unfortunately there is little to suggest that the Philippine government has the will or the capacity to do this.
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Old 07-01-2009   #43
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Looking back at that, I’l say that this:

Virtually every politician on Mindanao maintains a private armed force accountable to nobody but the boss.

…was an exaggeration. Northern and Eastern Mindanao do suffer from the same syndrome, but not to nearly the same extent. It would be more accurate to say that virtually every prominent politician and political clan in the conflict zones of Mindanao (and in some areas that are not currently conflict zones) maintains a private armed force accountable to nobody but the boss.

A few other comments:

Someday soon, someone is going to make his fortune in hardwoods from Tawi-Tawi. He will find a skilled, willing, English-speaking workforce. He will find it cheap and easy to get the goods to the shipping route that takes it to Japan or California, where he will get the best prices in the world. He will find that Sanga-Sanga is “going green,” as the Special Forces soldiers say.

Cutting down the trees seems a strange way of “going green”, but possibly there’s a meaning there that I’m not picking up.

It is very likely that someone, someday soon, will make a fortune out of Tawi-Tawi hardwood. It’s already happened on a lot of other islands. Generally the fortune is made by an influential local clan working with influential people in Manila. The only part of the money that will come to Tawi-Tawi will be the derisory wages paid to those who do the cutting, which will be spent before the last log is shipped out. The real profits will end up in Manila or abroad, and the only way anyone in Tawi Tawi will see any of it is if one of the principals is kidnapped and pays ransom.

The logging itself will be absolute. You can talk about reforestation and sustainable logging, but that’s not the way it works in the Philippines: when it’s done the island will look like the “after” picture in a Gillette ad. If you want to see what happens next, you can look at any one of hundreds of islands that serve as an example. Without the trees the topsoil washes off with the first rains, choking reefs under masses of silt. Agriculture on these islands depends on inland forest cover: without it rainfall runs off in destructive flash floods and when the rain stops the land goes dry. Without surface water retention streams stop running, and people rely on pumping more and more ground water. Without forest cover the rainfall runs off too fast to replenish the aquifers (these islands are not large), and soon groundwater pumping leads to salt water intrusion, and the wells start yielding salt water.

This is not imagination, it has happened on too many islands to count. You can make a good quick buck from cutting the trees, but the long term implications for the populace are very harsh.

And this is what’s suggested as the kind of economic development that can provide a long term solution to insurgency? Allah weeps.
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Old 07-20-2009   #44
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I also believe they are counterproductive.
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Old 07-23-2009   #45
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All of the above poster have valid points / counter-points on the failings and successes of the situation in the Philippines.

I believe that the root cause of all of these issues can be more aptly summed up to a lack of an effective legal system. While this is more evident in the rural, conflict-affected regions it is also true in the urban areas. Over the years I've heard the southern Philippines described as the "Wild West," in a reference to the US in the 1800's. While most people say this with a smile on their face, they are more accurate than they truly recognize. During the USA's time of manifest destiny there was no effective legal system to govern the land. There were no means to settle a dispute through deliberation or legal proceedings; there was only the rule of the gun. Additionally, there was widespread corruption which was facilitated through this rule of the gun. Those with the power (guns) were the ones to rise to office and the ones to reap the rewards of corruption. This model holds true most accurately in the Bangsa-Moro areas of the southern Philippines though is also applicable to the "communist" NPA areas throughout Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

The fighting between the AFP (which is a fairly effective fighting force as shown through the last few years' operational successes) and these "insurgents" will continue until this root problem is resolved. Government legitamacy (real, not just perceived) and an effective legal system (nationalized judges and a truly nationalized police force that are not accountable to local politicians) are absolute priorities to cutting the root.
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Old 07-26-2009   #46
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Originally Posted by Shawn Boyer View Post
I believe that the root cause of all of these issues can be more aptly summed up to a lack of an effective legal system.
With this I agree... I wrote about this problem in some (probably excessive) detail here:

http://muse.jhu.edu/login?uri=/journ...5.4rogers.html

Quote:
Originally Posted by Shawn Boyer View Post
While this is more evident in the rural, conflict-affected regions it is also true in the urban areas.
It's possibly even more true in the urban areas, simply because there's more at stake: the urban areas are where the power and the money are. The twisting of the law is slightly less obvious, because it's less likely to involve overt violence, but it's no less present.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Shawn Boyer View Post
Additionally, there was widespread corruption which was facilitated through this rule of the gun. Those with the power (guns) were the ones to rise to office and the ones to reap the rewards of corruption.
It works both ways: guns can get you money, but money buys guns, and the loyalty (no matter how nominal and transient) of those who carry guns. Much of the fighting in Mindanao (and elsewhere in the Philippines) has more to do with money than with ideology or political goals.

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Originally Posted by Shawn Boyer View Post
This model holds true most accurately in the Bangsa-Moro areas of the southern Philippines though is also applicable to the "communist" NPA areas throughout Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.
It's certainly most visible in Muslim Mindanao, though again I'd say the same syndrome is every bit as present, though more quietly manifested, in many other areas. I'm not sure that there's anywhere in the country right now that I'd call a "communist area", but the NPA have certainly (and unsurprisingly) been best received and established their most durable presence in areas dominated by the essentially feudal old-school political dynasties.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Shawn Boyer View Post
The fighting between the AFP (which is a fairly effective fighting force as shown through the last few years' operational successes) and these "insurgents" will continue until this root problem is resolved. Government legitamacy (real, not just perceived) and an effective legal system (nationalized judges and a truly nationalized police force that are not accountable to local politicians) are absolute priorities to cutting the root.
I would agree that real progress cannot be made in the Philippines until local politicians, the police, and the justice system are brought within the rule of law. I'd also have to add the AFP to that list, because corruption and illicit business interests among AFP personnel, often in cooperation with local politicians and businessmen, are a major part of the problem.

There's an old Manila joke that sort of sums it up...

A Berliner, a New Yorker, and a Manilan were discussing police efficiency in their cities.

The Berliner declared "in my city, when a crime is committed, the police are there within five minutes.

The New Yorker snapped back "that's nothing... in my city, when a crime is committed the police are on the scene in less than three minutes".

The Manilan just smiled: "in MY city, when a crime is committed... the police are already there."
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Old 07-26-2009   #47
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Certainly counterproductive from the standpoint of the central Government: the individuals being killed are not significant players, and pose no real threat. The Government loses far more in the public relations battle that it gains in the fight against insurgency from these incidents.

It's important to remember, though, that political violence in the Philippines is overwhelmingly local and very frequently personal. We often hear about the numbers killed during elections and campaigns, what we hear less often is that it is not national campaigns that spur violence, but contests over local offices. This is where the old family feuds and personal vendettas come into play.

In many of these cases there are direct personal conflicts involved: "militants", generally on the left, often come into direct conflict with local leaders and military commanders. Many of these people are thin-skinned and do not take well to accusations and perceived insults. They are also effectively above the law.

The NPA also survives in most areas through "revolutionary taxes", which essentially amount to extortion. This process often runs up against local economic interests, which generally overlap closely with political power. In some cases local political and military figures are running very similar protection rackets, and when the rackets rub up against each other violence often ensuers. One response is violence directed at those known to be NPA allies, who are often easier targets than their comrades in the mountains.

It is also completely true that many of these "militant" groups are closely allied with the NPA and that in many cases their memberships overlap. This is, as stated above, a reason for the general lack of public concern. A common "man on the street" reaction would be "kasama 'yan sa laro"... literally, "that's part of the game", though a more accurate equivalent might be the old aphorism "if you can't take the heat, stay out of the kitchen".

I very much doubt that the killings are directed by the central Government, but the Government does not have the will or the capacity to stop them.

Last edited by Dayuhan; 07-26-2009 at 01:40 PM.
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Old 10-02-2010   #48
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http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/39462815...ws-asiapacific

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“The safe havens are getting smaller on the islands,” said Master Sgt. Wade Christensen, a U.S. Army Special Forces instructor who came to Mindanao in 2003 on his first tour. He’s now on his second as part of JSOTF-P. “Since we’ve been here, there have been no attacks on the U.S. from terrorist organizations that originated here or terrorists that were trained in the Philippines.”

So if the mission to defeat terrorist networks and to eradicate safe havens has been successful, why are U.S. Special Forces still operating in the southern Philippines?

“The simple answer is that the Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist groups are still here,” said U.S. Navy Captain Robert Gusentine, the JSOTF-P Commander. “They’re still active. They still aspire to violence. They still aspire to be a regional threat.”
I have high confidence that MSG Christensen is an educated, level headed, and very dedicated warrior, so I suspect the media took the liberty of taking his statement out of context; however, since there are those who believe this is a success metric I would like to offer a counter view. There has been no terrorist attacks on the U.S. from a number of countries where we both have troops and don't have troops. The metric in itself is completely irrelevant.

The reality is that the JI (and they're continually morphing, but done the less they retain their core ideology) and to a lesser extent the criminal/terrorist group ASG still pose a regional threat. I think the U.S. is getting a good return on its investment. If pressure is removed the problem will most likely get much worse, instead of slowly decreasing in scale. Ultimately the solution in the S. Philippines is a political solution, but JSOTF-P was immensely successful in reducing the level of violence in the region. It is time (has been time) for the diplomats to take advantage of the reduced violence and implement a sustainable political agreement.

As for the claims that JSOTF-P is there to counter China, I have a hard time buying that is the reason they're there, but if it is a collateral benefit from being there so much the better. Based on comments by a few Philippine leaders, they're as worried about China's claims to hegemony over the South China Sea as much as we are, so instead of questioning our altruism for being in the S. Philippines, I think this is just another issue that the Philippines and U.S. will agree to partner on.
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Old 10-05-2010   #49
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The originally cited article is riddled with inaccuracy and omission. Just a few from page 1: the ASG was not involved in the plot to kill the Pope in Manila, they did not provide sanctuary to Ramzi Youssef, and the American missionary couple kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf were collateral damage in a move aimed at a specific non-American target, not a target in themselves. This is so typical of reportage on the Abu Sayyaf, especially from the big-name parachute journalists who occasionally deign to grace us with their presence, that it no longer raises an eyebrow. When I got to this bit, though:

Quote:
It struck me that the most pressing problem in today's Philippines isn't terrorism or even government corruption but poverty and a lack of social mobility.
I have to admit that I had a rather severe encounter with the "thank you for that astonishingly perceptive observation, now excuse me while I gag" moment. What is it that possesses Americans and persuades them that they can walk into environments of which they are clearly ignorant, look around in a full circle, and gravely pronounce to the world what "the most pressing problem" is... through the good offices of The Smithsonian, who really ought to know better? The superficiality is almost blinding.

Looking at the pieces cited on this thread, I have to say I don't for a minute believe that our people on the ground here are as ignorant and naive as they come across, and I suspect that this theater is simple being used, as so often before, as a source for a few feelgood stories.

Quote:
There has been no terrorist attacks on the U.S. from a number of countries where we both have troops and don't have troops. The metric in itself is completely irrelevant.
If this is the metric of choice we'd have to wonder why we're in the Philippines in the first place. Some people who have attacked the US have gone to ground here, and the explosives acquisition for the Bali bombing was done here, but have any of the groups here directly attacked the US?

Quote:
Ultimately the solution in the S. Philippines is a political solution, but JSOTF-P was immensely successful in reducing the level of violence in the region. It is time (has been time) for the diplomats to take advantage of the reduced violence and implement a sustainable political agreement.
A sustainable political agreement is extremely unlikely, and there's very little that diplomats can do to produce one, let alone implement one. We tried once before, with support and pressure for the MOA/AD with the MILF, and managed to make matters worse. Possibly unwise to repeat.

Quote:
So if the mission to defeat terrorist networks and to eradicate safe havens has been successful, why are U.S. Special Forces still operating in the southern Philippines?
I suspect that we've accomplished all we're likely to accomplish, and it wouldn't surprise me at all to hear that we're maneuvering toward extrication. Of course that would mean a return to business as usual (and the word "business" is not there by accident) but that was always going to be the case.

Quote:
This is fantastic. When I was part of OEF-P in 2002 we weren't allowed to even think about staging operations on Jolo.
In 1982 I spent a fair bit of time on Jolo and Basilan, among other places we don't go now... alone. Things were different then; couldn't have done that in '72, '92, or '02. Still, it was... interesting, for want of a better word. Also interesting, the editors with whom I discussed plans to write about the situation all told me that the Muslim conflict was over and done, and the issue was Marcos vs the NPA. Tides ebb and flow; it is their nature. Fundamental change... maybe someday, but I suspect not in my lifetime.
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Old 02-06-2011   #50
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Default Catch All OEF Phillipines (till 2012)

http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/breakin...ew-armed-group

Quote:
Ex-MILF leader forms new armed group

COTABATO CITY, Philippines—A senior Moro rebel commander blamed for the attacks that left 60 civilians dead in several central Mindanao towns in 2008 has admitted forming a new armed group.

Ameril Ombra Kato also blamed members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s (MILF) central committee for his decision to split from the MILF and form the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF)...
This has actually been coming on for a while. Umbra Kato's 105th base command and a couple of the Lanao base commands have been effectively outside MILF control for some time, though this is as far as I know the first time one of them has declared itself as an independent organization.

A number of things could happen...

There's a fair possibility it will go nowhere, and that Umbra Kato can be brought back into the fold with a greater role in the MILF Central Committee and a few other concessions. Personal issues are, as always, very much a factor.

There could be a bifurcation in the MILF, with more radical members that are less amenable to negotiation coalescing behind Umbra Kato and the demand that the "peace agreement" trashed by the Philippine Supreme Court be reinstated, which of course the government cannot do.

There could be a general splintering, with local commanders who are already largely autonomous formally going their own way.

The government response will also be interesting to watch. There will be pressure from Mindanao's Christian politicians and some quarters of the military to declare Umbra Kato (who was heavily involved in the outbreak of violence after the Supreme Court decision) outside the ceasefire with the MILF and come down on him hard before he draws any more support. There will also be calls to wait and see: if he fails to draw support it would do more to affirm the leadership of the negotiation-minded Murad faction (also called the Central Committee, though it seems less and less central), which would be placed in a very awkward spot if the AFP mounts a major attack on Umbra Kato. Umbra Kato is also well up in years, and won't be around forever. I don't know enough about his second tier at this point to speculate on succession.

This all traces back to the proposed MOA/AD and it's rejection by the Supreme Court, which hugely weakened Murad's pro-negotiation faction and left much of the Muslim populace doubting that there's any real point in negotiation. Less reported, but equally a concern, the Government's initial support for the agreement was seen as absolute betrayal by the Christian population, whose already weak trust in Manila took a further hit. There are reports of independent militias quietly reorganizing, and it should be remembered that the war in the early 70s began not with secessionists fighting the government, but with fighting between Christian and Muslim militias (though in truth they spent more time attacking each others unarmed supporters than attacking each other).

Proponents of "disaggregation" might see this as a step forward; I have doubts. It's difficult to negotiate with a fractured organization, and having a mass of independent commanders, all needing to feed and pay their soldiers, seems a recipe for all kinds of trouble.

It seems to me overall that in both the Maguindanao/Maranao mainland and the Tausug/Yakan islands there's less coherent leadership than there has been for some time (much more so in the islands of course). That shouldn't be confused with progress. Dislike and distrust of both Manila governance has been if anything increased in much of the area, and tension between indigenous Muslims and Christian settlers is as strong as ever. The number of armed men is as large as ever. Makes one wonder what emerges next.

Of course it all may come to nothing, and they may shake hands and get back together tomorrow....
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Old 02-06-2011   #51
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in Beyond the Abu Sayyaf, by Steven Rogers (January/February 2004 Foreign Affairs).

Perhaps a trustworthy bundoks source.



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Old 02-08-2011   #52
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Originally Posted by jmm99 View Post
in Beyond the Abu Sayyaf, by Steven Rogers (January/February 2004 Foreign Affairs).

Perhaps a trustworthy bundoks source.



Mike
If I was going to write that again I'd change a few things. Not all that much, but some... clarity with hindsight, I guess. Of course that dealt more with the islands to the west... a quite different situation from Central Mindanao, though with similarities.

There is actually a window of opportunity at this point (driven by both the MILF's uncertain control and the overreach and subsequent divorce from government of the Ampatuan dynasty) for the Philippine Government to step in with a strategy that is both within its legal capacity and capable of real progress toward reducing, if not fully resolving, the tension in Central Mindanao, and for that matter in the islands. Might almost be worth another article... but nobody would read it, the strategy would never be adopted in any event, it would be a hell of a lot of work, and I wouldn't get paid for it, all of which induce a certain lethargy.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Umbra Kato's boys are allegedly up to some nasty work...

http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx...CategoryId=200

Quote:
COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Xinhua) - Suspected followers of a former Muslim rebel field commander blamed for the attacks that left 60 civilians dead in several southern Philippine towns in 2008 torched houses as they raided a Christian community in the southern Philippines yesterday, military said today.

Seven houses of civilians in a remote village in the township of Mlang in North Cotabato province were set on fire by suspected followers of Ameril Umbra Kato during the raid, the military said, adding the rebels also took away farm crops and animals as they fled.
Emphasis on "allegedly" and "suspected" here... Umbra Kato and Co. are certainly capable of this sort of thing and may very well be responsible, but others are equally capable, and there are a number of groups who would have an interest in provoking military action against the breakaway faction. Never wise to assume that things are as they seem, or as they are reported.
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Old 02-08-2011   #53
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Default Potentially interesting develolments on the other side of the ranch...

There's a major corruption scandal unfolding in Manila. Started with investigation of a retired general who served as military comptroller and who had allegedly accumulated a personal fortune of roughly 300 million pesos; a plea bargain was hit and the usual sweep-under-the-rug was in progress, but a bunch of witnesses have emerged from the closet, including retired officers and a retired auditor, and the beans are spilling faster than anyone can count. Allegations include massive diversions of troop pay, the modernization budget, UN funds paying for peacekeepers, US exercise budgets, and almost everything else imaginable. Numerous instances of huge purchases from unknown suppliers, multiple accounts being billed for the same expenses. Large payments to legislators are being openly discussed. Lots of names on the table. Various hearings going on and a great deal of amnesia being expressed on the witness stand.

It all escalated today, former defense Secretary and General Angelo Reyes apparently committed suicide. Doubts are being expressed. He knew a lot of stuff about a lot of people, to put it mildly, and was coming under intense pressure.

There's undoubtedly a great deal to reveal, and it runs from top to bottom: these guys don't have skeletons in their closets, they have cemeteries. Hard to know how far it will go or what will come of it, but well worth watching. Long term it's undoubtedly a good thing; short term there could be significant operational disruption.
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Old 03-19-2011   #54
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Although it is certainly true that Kato is NOW off the reservation that has only taken place within the last 8 months. The belief that he, Abdurahman Macapaar, aka"Kumander Bravo" (102 Base Command) and Aleem Sulaiman Pangalian, aka "Kumander Pagnalian" (103 Base Command) have been "outside of MILF control" isn't rooted in fact. Two of the last three MILF "wars" ("Estrada's All Out War" in 2000 and "MoA" in 2008 and 2009 were calculated gambits on the part of the MILF Central Committee to try and force the government's hand in the Peace Process. The third, "Bundiok Complex" in 2003 was reactionary but entirely condoned by the leadership since the AFP's stated objectives (Policing of KFR on the edges of Liguasan Marsh, primarily against the "Pentagon" organisation) was merely a ruse to force the MILF's hand after GMA found herself neck deep in a failed Peace Process that was very quickly spinning out of control.

GMA, like all Filipino Presidents was incredibly insecure on her status vis a vis the AFP (the actual seat of power in the Philippines). Coming to power in a coup less than 2 years before she had immediately and literally begged Malaysia to assume the role of Facilitator in the Peace Process. Having internationalised what should have been solely a domestic issue, and having done so with a nation who until the early 1990s had largley been responsible for the existence of the MILF she was terrified of having the MILF gain the upper hand. Of course the moment GMA appealed to Malaysia in 2001 the MILF had gotten that and a whole lot more.

Estrada's war was a war of opportunity and though it turned out very well for the government alot of factors have been overlooked; As they say, "timing is everything." On the very same day Kumander Bravo stormed Kauswagan a very large contingent of the Marines 1st Brigade re-deployed to Camp Evangelista (Cagayan del Oro, Misamis Oriental Province in Northcentral Mindanao) Kumander Bravo's 102 Base Command (rather, what would soon become the 102 Base Command since the BIAF, the MILF military wing only converted its conventional structure into more mobile "Base Commands" following this very war. At the time of the attack the 102 Base Command was still the 303rd Brigade) decided to push the Estrada Government back to the table by invading and occupying the largely non-Muslim town of Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte Province. The Marines were in the very next province and hadn't even unpacked their kitbags.

I won't go off onto a long tangent about that conflict. Sufficient to say that the 102 Base Commandzg303rd Brigade was operating with full knowledge AND agreement of the MILF central commamd structure. Here is a unit commander (Kumander Bravo) who, if we buy into media accounts (dictated by the Philippine Government), single handedly decides that for an unstated reason he simply wants to take over a large non-Muslim town, terrorise, pillage and kill. This act then leads to the near destruction of the MILF at the height of its power. Its 11 main camps functioned completely independently of the government, with hundreds of thousands of peasants living as quasi-citizens of the MILF's parallel government. Kumander Bravo's actions led to the loss of every single one of those camps, near total destruction of that parallel government and the deaths of what is generally believed to be 1,200 guerillas, a huge loss. So what does the MILF do to Kumander Bravo for causing all this? Not a thing. He isn't even publicly censured.

Of course, you cannot blame a commander when you yourself were the one who ordered the attack on Kauswagan.

Fast forward to the summer of 2008. After nearly 2 decades of Talks, public and private, the Philippine Government goes for broke and takes a gigantic gamble by agreeing to the Memorandum on Ancestral Domain, aka"MoA." This is done in secrecy so as not to have to circumnavigate what would be years of political and judicial opposition (and to a lesser degree the threat of military coup). The MILF Central (and Executive) Committee sit with baited breath knowing that the very next day both sides will ink the document. That afternoon though the Supreme Court issues a Restraining Order barring the signing as it deliberates on the legality of the document. Imagine the feeling on the MILF Central Committee. Then Kumander Kato launches his attack on the non-Islamic portion of North Cotabato Province.

Again, the traditional narrative, courtesy of the Philippine Government, is that Kato undertook this wide scale attack on his own, despite his AOR intersecting with that of 5 other Base Commands. MILF Base Commands operate independently of one another and view encroachment, without full coordination (usually affected via the Central Committee), as Casus Belli. Despite this huge operation that encroached upon 3 of those other Base Commands not one case of in-fighting took place. The attack was extremely well coordinated. When Kumanders Bravo and Pangalian jumped into the fray the MILF STILL refused to condemn their actions which if we buy into that traditional narrative, effectively constitute mutiny. In fact, the MILF did everything it could to stymie AFP interdiction.

There was actually 1 renegade Base Command in that war, the 107. It had recently relocated its AOR to Sarangani Province where it launched a large opportunistic attack on the municipality of Ma'asim. Unlike the other 3 Base Commands the 107 was dissected by the AFP who rapidly captured its main camp in the hills above Ma'asim. In fact, MILF Central Committee provided valuable intel that played a central part in the 72 IB's attack on that camp.

Back to Kato...Despite his having done no worse than Kumander Bravo it was Kumander Kato who became the central villain in the Govenment's narrative. Pressuring the MILF for a huge concession the Government was handed a Goodwill Gesture when the MILF Central Committee replaced Kato with his Executive Officer, sub-Kumander Goma, in early 2010. Kato was laterally transferred into the political echelon and given a paper position as an Ustadz (Islamic Scholar, in this case acting as a consultant) for the MILF Shari'a Court (Islamic Court). This gesture was given because Kato's star was in ascendance. Ironically the Philippine Government's concentrating on Kato had turned him into an icon in Central Mindanao. A huge cult of personality has developed around him. Having commanded he BIAF's largest and best armed Base Command (the 105) he was clearly a force to be reckoned with. In addition he had been quite blunt in his disdain for the Central Committee's abandonment of its most valued objective, full independence for the "Bangsamoro." He saw the evolution of independence into a "state:sub-state solution" as tantamount to sacrilege. Finally, al Haj Murad (Murad Ebrahim, Chairman of the MILF) had a debilitating stroke in the autumn of 2010. Transported to Sabah (in Malaysia) for hospitalisarion the MILF was sinking into chaos. Knowing that IF he were to cleave from the MILF/BIAF he ought to do it BE0fORE Murad died because of the lack of suitable replacement (the probable successor, Vice Chairman Jafa'ar lacks charisma and support amongst the BIAF Command).

So, in October Kato set out his shingle and created BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters). As yet he's playing it close. The organisation has less than 800 Regulars but there are a great many MILF/BIAF that are almost ready to join him (just as in the 104 and 111Base Commands many guerillas are jumping to the 2 MNLF factions in their respective AORs). To date BIFF has 2 engagements though the Midsayap KFR they were accused of was not connected to the group.
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Old 03-19-2011   #55
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Re "militias have been quietly forming"; Paramilitaries have existed here since the post-WWII Era and have never gone away. The poster is correct to note that the Islamic Insurgencies began with Muslim and non-Muslim (not "Christian" per se) paramilitaries fighting in the late 1960s. It actually began in Lanao del Norte Province with the Dimaporo Clan and its paramilitary, the "Barakudas." The Barakudas merely existed to exert control on the Dimaporo lumber concessions, at first. To the south. In North Cotabato Province the Mindanao Independence Movement (MIM, later re-named Muslim Independence Movement) spawned a militant faction known as the "Black Shirts." It was these Black Shirts who actually spawned the communal fighting still ravaging the island today.

As the Black Shirts were first forming, a non-Muslim group began taking shape in what is now the municipality of North Upi, in Maguindanao Province. At the time Maguindanao was part of North Cotabato. The town of Upi (now split into Upi and North Upi) was home to very poor Ilonggo whose forbears settled there in government re-settlement schemes from 1904 until the late 1950s. At the same time the area was largely populated with a Lumad ("Lumad" is a Cebuano word meaning "Born of the Soil," synonymous with "Hill Tribes"and denotes the non-Negrito Animists of Mindanao, analogous to the "Igorot" of Luzon) group, the Teduray. Both the Lumad and the Ilonggo co-existed perfectly, respecting each others different life styles. The 3rd facet of the dynamic in Upi/N.Upi was the Maguindanowan Tribe. They are a Moro (Muslim) group inhabiting the lowlands and flood plains in that area.

Since shortly after Islamisation in the late 16th Century the Maguindanowan had exploited the upland Teduray and this included laying claim to all Teduray lands which they then deigned to "permit" Teduray" to work as sharecroppers. Since the 3 Moro Sultunates (actually 2 Sultunates and a confederation of principalities constituting the 3rd "sultunate": Maguindanao, Buayan and Maranao in respective order) refused to recognise American Law and Civil System the sultunates' lands largely remained unregistered until late in the Modern Era. In Upi/N.Upi this led to Ilonggo peasants being given lands claimed by the Manguindanowans. In one particular case a poor Ilonggo family moved to Upi/N.Upi in the 1940s and was settled on a tract of uncultivated land on a steep mountainside. After this family, surnamed "Luces," had cleared and terraced their small plot the chief of a Maguindanowan Clan surnamed "Ampatuan" (people familiar with the Philippines will probably know that name well) claimed it. Having been cleared and made arable it was now worth a decent amount of money.

The Luces were told to pay a very high price for land they already owned and so naturally they refused the Ampatuan's offer. Before too long Ampatuan Clansmen came and murdered the entire family, an event all too common in that era and in fact not unusual now. The family's son Felipe escaped death because he had been at the town's main market on an errand. Hearing what had happened he turned to Teduray friends who introduced him to a group of extended families who had refused to bow to the Maguindanowans, and who were periodically doing battle, mostly over land related issues. Felipe then lived among them and eventually rose to leadership of the small group. Adopting the moniker, "Kumander Toothpick" his victories attracted more Teduray, and eventually fellow Illongos as well as ( to a lesser degree) Cebuanos as well (Cebuanos and Ilonggos are culturally similar, both rooted in the Visayan Islands).

As the Black Shirts began launching attacks against Ilonggo and Cebuano villages in North Cotabato Province low level local politicians appealed to the PC (Philippine Constulbary, a COIN force organised by the Americans in 1901 and disbanded by the Philippine Government in 1991) for succor. Soon recognising that it would be advantageous to have an allied group not constrained by protocol and Standard Operating Procedure the PC encouraged Kumander Toothpick to work with the afore mentioned politicians.

Toothpick's group, still loosely organised, were referred to as "Ilaga," a Cebuano/Ilonggo word meaning "Rats." Moro propaganda claims that the word is actually an acronym standing for, "Ilonggo Land Grabbing Association." Forgetting that the group wasn't known for its English speaking skills, what organisation would define itself as "Land Grabbing"? For those not familiar with the nuance. In the Southern Philippines "Land Grabbing" is a euphanism for "Land Stealing." As the Ilaga expanded, and it expanded rapidly, it became more cohesive and received formal training AND weaponry from the PC (all the more so after 1971 when the Ilaga joined the fray against the NPA, the Communist Insurgency).

By 1969 the Barakuda to the north had taken on an ideological sheen and converted themselves into "Mujahadin" ( Islamic Warriors fighting in defence of the faith). Spreading from Lanao del Norte into the Zamboanga Peninsula and to a lesser extent into Misamis And Lanao del Sur Provinces they were far out numbering the Black Shirts who along with their parent organisation MIM fell by the wayside. Thus the Ilaga followed the outbreaks of violence by the Barakuda with neither group gaining the upper hand.

By the time of Martial Law in late 1972 the Ilaga had primarily become a tool for the anti-Communist push. It was in this vein that the Ilaga would become infamous as it absorbed Tad Tad elements. "Tad Tad" is Cebuano for "Chop Chop" and is applied to synchrestic Christian faiths that engage in canibbalism. Probably the case that defined, and tainted, the Ilaga was the case of Father Tullio Favali and Ilaga "officer" Norberto Manero Jr. In Tulunan, North Cotabato Province. Fr. Favali was an Italian priest and communist sympathiser who was killed and partially eaten in broad daylight un the spring of 1985. After its hey day in the mid 1980s the Ilaga faded into obscurity...until its re-emergence in response to the MILF/BIAF "MoA War" in 2008 and 2009.

The Ilaga are merely 1 group however, with literally every province on the island having several pro-Government paramilitaries. Whether as part of the CAA Program (CAFGU,CVO and SCAA) or as part of the Force Multiplication facet of the current and preceding ISPs, particularly the ISP-IPs (Internal Security Plan-Indigineous Peoples). Code named "Oplan Alsa Lumad" (Operational Plan Lumad Arise) it has created extremely well armed pro-Government paramilitaries like BULIF/bLA (Bungkatol Liberation Force/Army) amongst the Higaon-on Lumad in Agusan del Sur, Agusan del Norte and Bukidnon Provinces, BLPs (Bagani Longrang Platoons) amongst Manobos in the Davao Region and so on.
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Old 07-12-2011   #56
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Default One more time... 2 US citizens kidnapped near Zamboanga

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/...s9H_story.html

Quote:
MANILA, Philippines — More than a dozen armed men abducted three people before dawn Tuesday, including a 50-year-old naturalized American woman and her 14-year-old son, from a southern Philippine island near a stronghold of al-Qaeda-linked militants, officials said.

Suspicion fell on the notorious terrorist group Abu Sayyaf, which has been blamed for ransom kidnappings, beheadings and bombings in the last two decades, or a Muslim rebel commander whose group has been linked to previous abductions.
Apparently the woman is Filipina, from Basilan, and owned the resort, presumably through relatives.

The Abu Sayyaf will certainly be blamed, and ASG or one of its splinters may actually be responsible. There are other possible culprits as well, both organized groups and simple armed gangs that snatch people and "sell" them on to larger groups who are more capable of negotiating ransom, for a share of the profits. Silly place to be for an American, really, even one with Basilan roots.

Too early to tell yet how it will play out, and what role US capabilities in the area will have in the response.
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Old 07-18-2011   #57
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The answer is both yes AND no. When the AFP issued its SOMO in July of 2009, and the MILF/BIAF reciprocated a couple of days later, they did so without consulting Kato. For 3 months prior to the SOMO Kato had been effectively sidelined from the chain of command. A sub-Kumander by the name of Zacarias Goma had been made de facto Kumander of the 105 Base Command (Kato-s unit). Goma was issuing orders to Kato's #2, sub-Kumander Alo Binago on behalf of the BIAF General Staff (BIAF being Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces, the armed wing of the MILF). So then the SOMO, and Kato feels he was being excised from the unit he himself created (the 105 existed before Kato transferred from the 109 but was ineffective).

At that point Kato admits he began sending out feelers to allies within the BIAF about possibly branching out on his own. Then, when the Peace Process resumed, the BIAF General Staff had been in regular communication with Kumander Bravo, CO of the 102 Base Command, and had even promoted Kumander Mars (Pangalian) of the 103 Base Command, the other 2 being the Base Commands who with Kato, formed the so called "Lawless" faction of the MILF/BIAF. They ignored Kato, they didn't try to resolve the warrants issued against him for the 2008 War, they continued to refer to him as "Lawless" so that in effect they condoned the AFP/PNP campaign being waged against his Base Command without considering it a violation of the SOMO, or previous Ceasefire mechanisms.

Kato says that this caused him, in the early months of 2010 to resign his commission as Kumander of the 105 while simultaneously having both underlings AND the MILF political machine within his AOR submit petitions to both the BIAF General Staff and MILF Central Committee NOT to accept Kato's tendered resignation. Instead, the BIAF stayed silent and the MILF CenCom accepted the resignation and offered him a position as a teacher's aide, knowing he would reject it (he is a distinguished theologian in addition to his military experience which only began in middle age).

In December of 2010 he firmly separated from the MILF/BIAF and publicly outted his new organisation BIFF. However, this outting caused unexpected problems for the MILF in that it offered the Government a way in which to hedge in the Peace Process, to avoid substantiative progress while placing the onus on the MILF. Since then both Kato and the MILF Central Committee have played both sides of the fence, refusing to burn that final brisge. It is all rhetoric.

Even when Kumander Bravo deployed 4 senior officers to try and cajole Kato into renouncing this new group Kato has remained steadfast. Moreover, the MILF CenCom has co-operated with the AFP in framing BIFF (Kato's group) for every hiccup in Central Mindanao. CenCom did avert a meltdown when it created the new Base Command, the 118, to sap the 105 and 106 of disaffected personnel so as to circumvent a jumping of ship to BIFF but that is neither here nor there.
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Old 07-18-2011   #58
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She is a Sama from Sacol Island, Gerpa Usman, who was adopted by American missionaries at age 9 and brought to the US. There they changed her first name to render it phonetically correct, Gerfa, and with her new last name, Gerfa Yeatts. In America she met a half Japanese half Norwegian man, Hiko Lunsmann, whom she worked with at the healthcare corporation Health Central in Lynchburg, Virginia. Togetjer they bough a tract home in Campbell County, continued working together and had a son, Kevin Eric Lunsmann, now 14.

After having a baby she felt as if a part of her was missing, never having kept in touch with her family in Mindanao. It was shortly after the birth of her son that she took the first of what would become six trips to re-connect with her family. Finding her Sama family living a common life, but by her American-bred standards unbelievably poor, sh did the wrong thing, she began throwing money at them. In fact, the island where the kidnapping took place? 8 km off of Zamboanga City proper? She had had three inter-connecting compounds built. One was simply for her to use on visits every two or three years. The other was for her mother and siblings. Still, like many Filipino-Muslims she had a fair number of half siblings and this is where the problem lies.

One sister, Alma Jakaria of Malmawi Island off of Isabela City on Basilan had asked her for cash after Gerfa's arrival at the end of June. Gerfa only gave a relatively small amount. One day before the kidnapping Ms.Jakaria arrived with a 19 year old sold. Though it isn't being released at this point the young man is ASG, and led his pals to the island in question. After the kidnapping the Lunsmanns were sighted entering Tuburan (Basilan, not Cen.Min.) from al Barka. They are currently with the same ASG sub-faction that took them but if there is no hand over in the next few days they will be sold to Jamiri who has taken a loss on his last 4 KFRs.

Anyway, another day in paradise. My issue though is the last American KFR in Misamis Oriental 2 months ag being overlooked but more so, we have Pinoy (and others, currently 1 Japanese, 1 Malaysian, 1 Indian from UAE) being grabbed every other day. This woman gets got and the PNP Dirrector General hops on a plane within two hours. Maybe if they took all KFRs this seriously we would have far fewer...well maybe.
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Old 07-19-2011   #59
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One sister, Alma Jakaria of Malmawi Island off of Isabela City on Basilan had asked her for cash after Gerfa's arrival at the end of June. Gerfa only gave a relatively small amount. One day before the kidnapping Ms.Jakaria arrived with a 19 year old sold. Though it isn't being released at this point the young man is ASG, and led his pals to the island in question. After the kidnapping the Lunsmanns were sighted entering Tuburan (Basilan, not Cen.Min.) from al Barka. They are currently with the same ASG sub-faction that took them but if there is no hand over in the next few days they will be sold to Jamiri who has taken a loss on his last 4 KFRs.
I doubt they would have needed to be led to the island; the location would have been common knowledge... but the inside guy is quite likely. As for the rest of it; yes, that's the way it typically works, on both sides. Americans often believe that the rash of people ratting out ASG members was a consequence of development projects winning over the people, more often than not it came down to internal fights over distribution of ransom. People who get less than they think themselves entitled to have a way of taking action...

Quote:
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Anyway, another day in paradise. My issue though is the last American KFR in Misamis Oriental 2 months ag being overlooked but more so, we have Pinoy (and others, currently 1 Japanese, 1 Malaysian, 1 Indian from UAE) being grabbed every other day. This woman gets got and the PNP Dirrector General hops on a plane within two hours. Maybe if they took all KFRs this seriously we would have far fewer...well maybe.
Maybe to keep the local subordinates from trying to get in on ransom payments? Not that they're likely to get much of that from Americans. We shall see. In any event, business as usual, emphasis on business. Interesting to see what, if anything, the US does...
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Old 07-21-2011   #60
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It was these Black Shirts who actually spawned the communal fighting still ravaging the island today.
That depends on who you listen to. As discussed elsewhere, both sides in that conflict have adopted self-serving historical narratives casting themselves as victims and their opponents as aggressors. Neither narrative is particularly credible. There were acts of outright aggression and atrocity on both sides, and the militias on both sides preferred to target the other side's unarmed civilian base.

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In one particular case a poor Ilonggo family moved to Upi/N.Upi in the 1940s and was settled on a tract of uncultivated land on a steep mountainside. After this family, surnamed "Luces," had cleared and terraced their small plot the chief of a Maguindanowan Clan surnamed "Ampatuan" (people familiar with the Philippines will probably know that name well) claimed it. Having been cleared and made arable it was now worth a decent amount of money.

The Luces were told to pay a very high price for land they already owned and so naturally they refused the Ampatuan's offer. Before too long Ampatuan Clansmen came and murdered the entire family, an event all too common in that era and in fact not unusual now. The family's son Felipe escaped death because he had been at the town's main market on an errand. Hearing what had happened he turned to Teduray friends who introduced him to a group of extended families who had refused to bow to the Maguindanowans, and who were periodically doing battle, mostly over land related issues. Felipe then lived among them and eventually rose to leadership of the small group. Adopting the moniker, "Kumander Toothpick" his victories attracted more Teduray, and eventually fellow Illongos as well as ( to a lesser degree) Cebuanos as well (Cebuanos and Ilonggos are culturally similar, both rooted in the Visayan Islands).
That would be Feliciano Luces, no?

Again, I've heard that version of the story... spent a lot of time with Mindanao Ilonggos in the late 70s and early 80s and emerged well steeped in their mythology. I then spent some time in Cotabato listening to their mythology. The two are very different, and obviously incompatible, yet both sides accept them as absolute truth.

The refrain about settlement on "unused land" only goes so far. Anywhere that you still have indigenous control in the Philippines, tribal units have extensive tracts of "unused land" within their ancestral domain claims... these may be disputed by different tribal groups, but none of the disputing parties would generally be amenable to outside settlement. In my area forest, hunting grounds, watersheds, and simple buffer zones between groups are all considered an integral part of the tribe's territory, even though those areas might seem "unused" to an outsider. Certainly if someone tried to settle there and claim the land (none of which has government-recognized titles) an immediate and probably violent reaction would ensue. Looking back at the history the surprise is really that settlement went on so long before it produced a violent backlash.

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Toothpick's group, still loosely organised, were referred to as "Ilaga," a Cebuano/Ilonggo word meaning "Rats." Moro propaganda claims that the word is actually an acronym standing for, "Ilonggo Land Grabbing Association." Forgetting that the group wasn't known for its English speaking skills, what organisation would define itself as "Land Grabbing"?
I never heard anyone claim that "Ilaga" was actually intended to stand for "Ilonggo Landgrabbers Association", and I've listened to some extreme propagandists on both sides. It was an assigned meaning, bit of black humor. Lang grabbing did go on, and lots of it, often with the cooperation and in some cases participation of the military.

You could go on forever trying to decipher who started the actual violence, and never come up with a really satisfactory answer. Certainly you'd have no chance of coming up with an answer accepted by both sides. Ultimately, though, the cause of the conflict was clearly the sponsored large-scale migration into Cotabato and Lanao. That had been going on a long time, but it accelerated dramatically in the 50s and 60s, to the point that areas where settlers achieved a numerical majority and political control in areas where indigenous groups once had both. There's no way a government can impose that sort of demographic change without producing violence.

It's useful to see the Moro propaganda for what it is, but the propaganda from the other side is no less distorted. It's a bit like listening to Israeli and Palestinian narratives: it's useful (if depressing) to know what both sides think, but one wouldn't want to confuse either version with truth.
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