03 August 2004

New Offensives in Mindanao?

Belmont Club reports on ominous new developments in the Philippines.
The scene is now set for a possible resurgence of fighting. A glance at the map dramatically illustrates the bind that Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and the Philippine Government have worked themselves into. For the first time in a century, Muslim rebels have established themselves in force on the Mindanao mainland, away from their traditional strongholds of Sulu, Basilan and Tawi-tawi, island groups in the southwest corner of the archipelago. They are positioned on the west side of Mindanao's breadbasket, the Cotabato valley. The MILF [Mindanao Islamic Liberation Front] camps guard the approaches to mountain massifs to the west which then give on the sea, their line of supply. They isolate the predominantly Christian Zamboanga peninsula from Northern Mindanao and essentially cut the huge island in two. The Armed Forces of the Philippines, despite a nominal strength of ten divisions, has very little combat power. A lack of logistical support and ammunition stockpiles means that (Belmont Club estimate) it can sustain offensive operations with only two battalions for a period of 12 weeks after which it simply runs out of everything. Thus, Manila has long lacked an offensive option against the MILF and has tried to compensate by "peace talks", which are another name for appeasement.

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