While the Philippine government possesses the political will to use security measures against terrorists, it is struggling to apply a “coordinated whole-of-government approach” in preventing terrorism especially in the southern Philippines, the U.S Department of State said in its latest report on worldwide terrorism activities.
In a newly uploaded Country Reports on Terrorism 2019, the State Department noted that the continued ability of terrorist organizations to operate in Mindanao “reflects the centuries-long challenge of governing effectively” in the remote areas of the country.
“Although the Philippine government possesses the political will to apply security measures against terrorist threats and has consistently partnered with the United States and other nations to build the capacity to do so, it struggles to apply a coordinated whole-of-government approach to prevent terrorism,” it said.
The other challenge being faced by the Philippines is the establishment of “consistent security” in a region characterized by a strong separatist identity, endemic poverty, and religious differences.
The State Department listed at least six terrorist incidents that occurred in 2019 in the southern Philippines targeting civilians and security forces with IEDs and small arms, as well as multiple suicide bombings, which is a “new phenomenon” for the region.
“Groups affiliated with ISIS-Philippines continued efforts to recover from battlefield losses, recruiting and training new members, and staging suicide bombings and attacks with IEDs and small arms that targeted security forces and civilians,” the report said.
Citing separate incidents in 2019, the report said terrorists included a complex attack against a military unit in Sulu, which involved the first Filipino suicide bomber, as well as a suicide attack at the Jolo Cathedral in Sulu carried out by an Indonesian couple.
Aside from ISIS-Philippines affiliates groups active in 2019 such as the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), Ansar al-Khalifa Philippines (AKP), and the Maute Group, the Philippines remained a destination for foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) from Indonesia, Malaysia, and countries in the Middle East and Europe.
Furthermore, the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law in January 2019 and the subsequent establishment of a more autonomous regional government under the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) did not stop “some rogue MILF elements and breakaway groups, including BIFF, ASG, AKP, and the Maute Group” from continuing to oppose the peace process.
The State Department report said the Philippines made progress toward compliance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 2396, taking steps to curb terrorist travel and improving information sharing with foreign partners.
It likewise cited the country’s counterterrorism legislation including the 2007 Humans Security Act (HAS), the 2012 Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act (TF Law), and the proposed amendments to strengthen the HAS which is now awaiting the signature of President Duterte.