Security has been stepped up in densely populated areas in anticipation of more terrorist attacks after a bomb went off in Sultan Kudarat, killing three people and wounding 35 others.
Military officials said Thursday that the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, the group they blamed for the attack, has shifted tactics to gain prominence among international terrorist organizations, and have made urban centers their primary targets.
Brig. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, commander of the 6th Infantry Division, said they raised the level of security awareness within his jurisdiction to thwart attacks on urban centers.
“Urban centers are their target—crowded places because that’s their thrust to gain support from international terrorist organizations,” Sobejana said.
He said this shift was a sign of weakness, as the terrorists are unable to confront ground troops in battle due to depleted armaments.
“The emplacement of IEDs [improvised explosive devices] is a clear manifestation that they are becoming weak, they have no firepower to fight government forces,” he said.
Since January, the BIFF suffered tremendous setbacks in a series of battles with security forces, particularly in Central Mindanao, losing hundreds of fighters to death or capture.
Sobejana said in the Isulan, Sultan Kudarat attack, several leads pointed to the BIFF.
To protect civilian communities, he said troop visibility would be increased, with more checkpoints being set up.
On Thursday, the death toll in the Isulan blast rose to three after a 21-year-old man, Welmark John Lapides, died after remaining in critical condition in a General Santos City hospital, radio dzBB reported.
The report cited Philippine National Police Region 12 spokesperson Supt. Aldrin Gonzales. Tuesday’s blast immediately killed a seven-year-old girl and a 52-year-old woman.
Senator Panfilo Lacson said the recent attack suggested that neither martial law nor the Bangsamoro Organic Law could guarantee peace in Mindanao.
Lacson said security forces, particularly in Mindanao, should avert the vicious cycle of talking peace with one group while alienating others.
At the same time, an anti-terrorism bill he has proposed may give the government a much-needed boost in its fight against terrorists, since it enhances the Human Security Act of 2007 with provisions on foreign terrorists and additional predicate crimes.
“While an anti-terror law in itself cannot solve the problem of terrorism, an intensified one can, however, give the government and the law enforcement agencies the much-needed tool in dealing with the emerging threats of terrorism,” said Lacson, who headed the Philippine National Police from 1999 to 2001.
He said the occupation of Marawi City by the Maute Group in 2017 “revealed the many loopholes of the current anti-terrorism law.” He noted the Philippines was ranked the 12th most affected by terrorism by the Global Terror Index in 2017.
He added that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front came into being and became a dominant armed force in Mindanao after the government came to a peace agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front.
The bill penalizes foreign terrorists, including those who travel to a state other than their state of residence for committing or organizing terrorist acts; and those residing abroad who come to the Philippines in transit to commit or take part in terrorist acts to target countries.
Lacson’s bill adds three predicate crimes to the 12 in the present law. These are: RA 9208, Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003, RA 9165, Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 and RA 10175, Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.
Covered as well are other analogous acts that tend to cause death or serious bodily injury, or intend to cause risk to the health, safety or security of the public, or intend to seriously interfere with, disrupt or destroy critical infrastructure.
Also covered are acts using weapons of mass destruction, proscribed under relevant treaties and conventions where the Philippines is a state party.
The bill punishes those recruiting another person to serve in or with an armed force in a foreign state; publishing an ad or propaganda; and other acts with the intention of facilitating or promoting the recruitment of persons to serve in any capacity in or with such armed forces.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that while it is too early to recommend an extension of martial law, he said that remains an option in dealing with terrorism in Mindanao.
Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on Thursday said she supports the administration’s view on martial law in Mindanao.
Arroyo’s statement came after Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea said Wednesday that extending martial law in Mindanao is an option after the Sultan Kudarat bomb attack.
“I support what the President does because I have been president and I believe that he does not need a peanut gallery to tell him what to do,” Arroyo said.
House Majority Leader and Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr. said the House is ready to grant the President an extended martial law in Mindanao should the Chief Executive ask for it.
“The declaration of martial law is the call of the executive. The President declares or extends, Congress concurs. If the President will ask for it, then it shall be given,” Andaya said.
Andaya also urged the Palace to convene the National Security Council and Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council to discuss the progress of the Marawi rehabilitation program and the Bangsamoro Organic Law.