Twin explosions have left at least 20 dead and some 80 wounded at the cathedral in Jolo, capital of Sulu province in the restive southern Philippine island of Mindanao. The first blast went off inside the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel as Sunday mass was about to start. This was followed a few seconds later by another blast in the cathedral's parking area. The attack came just days after the Bangsamoro Organic Law was approved by voters in the region, creating a new Muslim-led autonomous government, The new Bangsamoro autonomous region replaces the weaker Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). More than 1.5 million ARMM residents voted "yes" to BOL ratification, while some 199,000 voted "no." Of the five provinces in the autonomous region, the only one to reject the BOL was Sulu—by a vote of some 163,500 to 137,630.
The massacre of nine farmworkers, including two minors, killed Oct 20 at Hacienda Nene, outside Sagay City in the central Philippine island of Negros, constituted the single most deadly attack against peasant activists under the Rodrigo Duterte administration. A fact-finding mission led by human rights and civil society groups has pointed to members of the Special Civilian Auxiliary Army (SCAA), a private militia associated with the Armed Forces of the Philippines, as the most likely perpetrators of the "Sagay 9" massacre. The investigators found that members of the paramilitary group opened fire with M-16 rifles on the farmworkers as they were having their evening meal. Most victims reportedly suffered shots to the head, and three of the dead bodies were doused with gasoline and burned afterwards. The fact-finding mission was led by the Children's Rehabilitation Center, Karapatan National Alliance for the Advancement of People's Rights, the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers, the Salinlahi Alliance, and Gabriela Women's Party congressmember Arlene Brosas.
Nine sugar-cane workers were killed as a group of some 40 gunmen fired on their encampment on lands they were occupying in Negros Occidental province of the central Philippines Oct. 20. Among the fatalities were three women and two minors. The slain were members of the National Federation of Sugar Workers who were occupying part of the sprawling Hacienda Nene near Barangay Bulanon village, outside Sagay City. The occupation was legally permitted under an agrarian reform program established in the 1980s that allows landless rural workers to cultivate fallow lands on large plantations while title transfer is pending. The massacre was reported by survivors who managed to scatter and hide. Some of the bodies were burned by the attackers. "They were strafed by unknown perpetrators while already resting in their respective tents," said Cristina Palabay, head of the rights group Karapatan. Calling the attack "brutal and brazen," she said: "We call on the Commission on Human Rights to conduct an independent and thorough investigation on the massacre. We are one with the kin of the victims in the Sagay massacre in their call for justice."
Several Philippine families filed a complaint (PDF) with the International Criminal Court (ICC) Aug. 28, accusing President Rodrigo Duterte of murder during his "war on drugs." The complaint charges Duterte with "crimes against humanity," including extrajudicial killings. This is the second complaint against Duterte filed with the ICC; the first was filed in April 2017. The ICC began preliminary examination in the case in February. Duterte announced the Philippines' withdrawal from the ICC in March. In a 15-page letter to the media, Duterte declared that the Philippines will immediately withdraw its ratification of the Rome Statute, which established the ICC and was ratified by the Philippines in late 2011. Under the statute, a member can withdraw no sooner than one year following written notification to the UN Secretary-General. However, Duterte claimed that the agreement was immediately voidable because it was signed fraudulently.
In addition to stationing troops on the disputed islands it claims in the South China Sea, Beijing is rapidly expanding its network of commercial ports across the Indian Ocean. This comes as China is sending warships into the Ocean with growing frequency, leading to fears that the commercial ports could presage military bases, The latest addition is the port of Hambantota in Sri Lanka, acquired in a debt swap deal—the Colombo government was forgiven $1 billion in debt to Beijing in exchange for the Hambantota facility. The agreement explicitly bars China's military use of the port, but critics note that Sri Lanka remains heavily indebted to China, and could be pressured to allow it. The pact also comes as the People's Liberation Army is providing training to Sri Lanka's military. Beijing also donated a frigate to Sri Lanka's navy after the pact was announced. China is simultaenously loaning political support to the Sri Lanka government in its defiance of international pressure for a war crimes investigation over its internal conflict with Tamil rebels.
A new report published by the US-based Project 2049 Institute says that it is "a matter of time" before the People’s Republic of China launches a "short, sharp war" to take the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea—claimed by China as the Diaoyu Islands, but currently controlled by Japan. The report is entitled "White Warships and Little Blue Men" (PDF)—a reference to China's Coast Guard and Maritime Militia, both of which have seen a dramatic build-up in the past decade, along with the rapid modernization and expansion of the naval forces of the People's Liberation Army. We are not sure we share the assessment that the conflict will be "limited yet decisive," in the paraphrase of Epoch Times...
The Unites States is facing a pretty surreal contradiction, with blustering Trump and his cannabis-phobic Attorney General Jeff Sessions holding the federal reins, as legalization takes effect in California. The Philippines is looking at a similar paradox. Ultra-hardline President Rodrigo Duterte is again sending the National Police back into drug enforcement, after he was pressured to withdraw them by a public outcry over their slaying of thousands of innocent civilians since he took office in June 2016. And on New Year's Eve, he won a grim victory as the Philippine Congress voted to extend his declaration of martial law in the conflicted southern island of Mindanao through the end of 2018.
The Philippines' President Rodrigo Duterte—trying to justify sending the National Police back into drug enforcement after he was pressured to withdraw them by a public outcry over their slaying of innocent civilians—seems to have just been caught in a lie. He stated Dec. 7 that 242 police officers have been killed in anti-drug operations since he took office on June 30, 2016—this by way of providing a rationale for the police killing thousands of Filipinos in this same period. He said, in his typically crude syntax: "[W]hy is it, if it is not that dangerous and violent, why is it that to date, I have lost 242 policemen in drug-related raids and arrest?"