Hyping Terrorism in the Philippines
The Philippines has been declared a terrorism battleground by the Bush administration. A few hundred US troops and civilians are now quietly based there to fight "terror." However, there is no more terrorism in the Philippines than has routinely occurred for hundreds of years. The Philippines has been selected to portray the "war on terror" as a new worldwide threat to civilization by "extremists." In reality, New York was attacked in 2001 and London bombed this year by Muslim nationalists opposed to Anglo-American puppet dictatorships and US troops in their region.
Muslims in the southern Philippines have been fighting for independence for hundreds of years. They are loosely organized as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) (left); a collection of tribal groups that don't even speak the same language whose peaceful leaders are recognized and tolerated by the Philippine government. Note the word "Moro" is a Spanish term which comes from their 400-year colonial occupation. The Spaniards called the Muslim rebels the same thing as the Muslims they once fought in southern Spain -- the Moros from Morocco. After the US military conquered the Philippines a hundred years ago, US troops fought these same Moro rebels for decades.
Like all lies, claims of terrorism in the Philippines contain some truth. Small groups of Muslim rebels in the far south conduct frequent attacks against Philippine government offices and soldiers. There are Arabs who migrated to the region over the past few decades. Arab charities provide funds for Muslim groups in the region. It is difficult to control arms smuggling and immigration into the thousands of Philippine islands as government officials are easily bribed. Many Filipinos are mixed race from Spanish fathers whose offspring often look Arab, so Arabs blend in easily. Finally, Filipinos are friendly and ask few questions, especially if the visitor has a lot of cash to spend.
Therefore, the Philippines is a favored hideout for Arabs who have fled their native lands. Most are immigrants who have married locals and have no interest in politics. Arab "charities" once funded Muslim rebel groups as part of a worldwide struggle against Christians. However, they learned that Filipino Muslims were mostly interested in making money and have no interest in jihads or Arab problems. Leaders of Muslim rebel groups insist their fight is for independence and denounce rare terror attacks.
The Muslim rebel problem has decreased because 30 years ago dictator President Ferdinand Marcos concluded the solution to the Muslim rebels in the south was to flood the region with Christians. He began a program of land grants and incentives to encourage Christians from overcrowded Cebu island in the central Philippines to move to the large, undeveloped island of Mindanao. This caused much friction, but Christian immigration has diluted Muslim influence. In addition, the introduction of cable television has introduced younger Muslims to the mainstream Filipino culture and reduced the influence of religious and tribal leaders.
Christians account for 95% of all Filipinos and are even the majority in Mindanao. The Philippine military is large, competent and Muslims rebels are a minor threat as they are limited to a few isolated regions. The conflict is not about religion, but control. Muslim tribal leaders prefer to run things as they see fit and oppose interference from outsiders, so the Philippine military tries to get along. However, the region is poor and gangs are common who often venture outside their area to engage in robbery and kidnap for ransom schemes. In addition, fighting often erupts among Muslim tribal groups and the Philippine Army intervenes to limit bloodshed.
The Philippine military also fights varied rebel groups around the Philippines, not just Muslims. Some are rural gangs involved in criminal activities, while others are segments of isolated tribal groups who never accepted the rule of the Spaniards, Americans, or now the Manila Filipino elite. There are also political rebels led by educated Filipinos who oppose the wealthy Spanish feudal lords who still run the Philippines. These rebels are often dubbed the New People's Army (NPA) and referred to as "communists." These groups have no international support, and are often armed with World War II vintage M-1 Garand rifles.
None of these groups are a real threat to Americans or even Filipinos. The true threat in the Philippines is the corrupt, wealthy Spanish oligarchy that continues to rule by buying elections. They are backed by ethnic Chinese who now control 40% of business, although they are just 2% of the population. These two groups pursue their traditional goal of protecting inherited wealth with little concern for laws, ethics, or the working class. This is accomplished by blocking free market competition which threatens their antiquated industries, and discouraging new development by demanding bribes for "permits." As a result, economic progress is limited as the idle rich prefer operating extortion rackets, or enjoying life, often living overseas.
The Philippines was the wealthiest nation in Asia for several years after it was granted full independence by the USA in 1946. It is now one of the poorest nations in western Pacific. Some of this because a high-birth rate encouraged by the Catholic Church is producing people faster than the economy can expand. As a result, manpower is one of the nation's chief exports, through legal and illegal immigration, and overseas contract workers. This has exposed millions of working class Filipinos to wealthy, honest, functional nations. They realize that corruption and politics back home is holding their nation back, so there is much discontent.
A recent example arose when the son of Philippine Major General Carlos Garcia was arrested at the San Francisco, Calif. airport last year for failing to declare $100,000 in cash. The US government assisted with an investigation and determined that Garcia owned three homes in the USA in addition to several properties in the Philippines valued at over $4 million US dollars. Garcia was the comptroller of the Philippine Army, the senior man in charge of disbursing funds. He was unable to explain this wealth as he earns a modest salary.
Garcia later announced that he was just following a tradition of skimming money to compensate for "low salaries." An investigation showed this was true, all senior Philippine military officers received extra money off the books, although not nearly as much as Garcia had amassed. Most were stolen from training funds provided by the US military during joint exercises. The remainder came from diverting salaries of soldiers who had been killed or deserted. Civilian leaders were disturbed to learn of widespread fraud by their Generals, but knew that prosecution would result in a military coup. They decided to just demand the theft of funds stop, and a court-martial for General Garcia since his theft was massive.
Meanwhile, the Philippine military remains deadlocked as to what to do with 41 junior military officers (mostly Captains) who led 184 enlisted men in an armed protest in 2003. These elite Army Special Forces troops occupied the Oakwood shopping center in Manila for two days and demanded change. They accused then defense secretary Angelo Reyes and then military intelligence chief Brig. Gen. Victor Corpus of staging bombings across Mindanao to frame the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as a terrorist organization. They also accused military leaders of selling weapons rebel groups as well as planning bombings in Manila in a bid to justify marital law. This would attract more military aid from the United States, which revelations from General Garcia's case show was mostly stolen by the Generals themselves. Reyes and Corpus resigned to avoid criticism, and the Philippine military is reluctant to proceed with an open court-martial knowing the attention that would generate.
This scandal is now overshadowed by evidence of corruption at the highest level of government. Last June, the second in command of the Philippine National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) released three hours of secretly recorded conversations between President Gloria Arroyo and a national election official in which they discussed how the Americans helped rig the 2004 elections so she would win by an convincing one million votes. There had been many allegations of election rigging, especially since Arroyo won 100% of the vote in some areas. Arroyo is seen as an arrogant rich kid from a dynasty family who is distrusted by many Filipinos.
The leaker of the recorded conversations was arrested while Arroyo announced that possession or publication of the tapes was a violation of wiretap statutes. However, copies had spread over the Internet and had already been published by some newspapers. Meanwhile, Arroyo has refused to discuss the tapes (actually a CD) because they were illegally recorded. She later admitted that she had made an "error in judgment." Her supporters noted that she probably would have won the election anyway, and asked everyone to forget this issue since it undermines economic progress. Arroyo has ignored calls to resign from many influential people, including most of her cabinet members who quit in protest. The average Filipino finds it outrageous and typical when hard evidence that their President rigged national elections does not result in impeachment, which has been blocked by her supporters.
Past history would suggest a military coup is in order, yet Army Generals support Arroyo since she didn't press prosecution for their embezzlement. It seems Arroyo will stay and office and the Philippine economy will sputter along. The nation has much economic potential as it is the world's 4th largest English speaking nation, which has resulted in much "off shoring" work in the form or call centers and customer service work. English is the semi-official language spoken fluently by most Filipinos. In addition, the Philippines has become a popular vacation spot for Japanese, Koreans, and Chinese because of its warm winter weather and very low costs. However, the presence of these wealthier Asians reminds all Filipinos that something is holding them back, and it is not terrorism.
Carlton Meyer editorG2mil@Gmail.com