Country Report on Terrorism 2016 - Chapter 2 - Philippines

Overview: The Philippines continued to make progress against terrorism in 2016, a period that included the orderly transfer of power through a fair and free election. The emergence of ISIS‑affiliated extremist groups, persistent kidnappings by the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), attacks on government forces, and bombings, all indicated that domestic and international terrorism remained a serious problem. Terrorist acts included criminal activities designed to generate revenue, such as kidnapping for ransom, extortion, and bombings for hire. Philippine military and police counterterrorism efforts kept up pressure on terrorist organizations, but were unable to prevent numerous attacks against government, public, and private facilities, primarily in central and western Mindanao. Terrorist groups retained the ability and intent to conduct bombings, shootings, and ambushes against targets of their choice, as seen in a November 28 incident in which a bomb was discovered and disarmed near the U.S. Embassy in Manila.

President Duterte’s focus on anti-narcotics and counterterrorism operations slowed progress towards shifting internal security functions from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to the Philippine National Police (PNP). The PNP is responsible for ensuring peace and security throughout the country, including arresting terrorists and conducting terrorism investigations. The AFP, including special operation units, often supplants the PNP as the primary force tasked with counterterrorism operations, and coordination between the two services is improving, but remained a challenge in 2016.

The Philippine government’s Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, if implemented, would have created a new Bangsamoro autonomous government in Mindanao. The agreement was not acted on by Congress before the end of the Aquino administration in June 2016. President Duterte has pursued a strategy focused on establishing regional autonomy through a constitutional shift to a federalist model and pursuing parallel peace negotiations with the Moro National Liberation Front, and the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army (CPP/NPA). The government’s goal is to reduce radicalization and the attraction of terrorist groups by providing greater political and economic autonomy for Muslim-majority areas of Mindanao. In August, the government and the CPP/NPA each declared unilateral cease-fires as negotiations continued.

The Philippine government recognized the threat posed by radicalized Philippine citizens supporting ISIS and ISIS supporters traveling to the Philippines to promote violent extremism in the country or seek safe haven. Members of numerous groups – including parts of the ASG; the Dawlah Islamiyah Lanao (DIL), commonly referred to as the Maute Group; and Ansar-al Khalifah Philippines – have pledged allegiance to ISIS. ISIS called on its supporters in Southeast Asia to join these groups and attack targets in the Philippines, and named former ASG leader Isnilon Hapilon as its regional leader.

2016 Terrorist Incidents: There were dozens of small arms and improvised explosive device attacks, kidnappings for ransom, and extortion efforts. Notable incidents included:

  • ASG fighters on Sulu beheaded two Canadian hostages, one in April and one in June, when their ransoms were not paid. The two men had been held captive since September 2015.
  • In July, seven government troops were killed in clashes with CPP/NPA guerillas in eastern Mindanao.
  • In August, 50 fighters associated with the DIL attacked a jail in Marawi, freeing eight detained members.
  • On September 2, a Davao city night market was bombed, killing 15 people and wounding more than 40 people. The government arrested several suspects affiliated with the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and DIL for the bombing.
  • On November 24, DIL fighters temporarily seized the town center of Butig, a city of 16,000 in Mindanao, resulting in six days of fighting that left dozens of DIL fighters dead.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: The 2007 Human Security Act (HSA) is the Philippines’ key counterterrorism legislation. The HSA defines terrorism and provides for law enforcement investigation of terrorist suspects. Use of the law has been limited by strict procedural requirements in the HSA, including requirements to notify subjects of electronic surveillance and monetary damages for every day of detention if an individual is acquitted. No convictions under the HSA were reported during 2016, and no groups were designated as terrorist organizations in 2016. Efforts to amend the HSA to better conform to international standards was renewed following election-related delays. The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Reorganization and Modernization Act was enacted into law to meet the increasing demands of an expanded investigative and detective workload. The Cyber Prevention Act of 2012 and National Defense Act are among the priority pieces of legislation under the current administration.

Units with a specialized counterterrorism focus, including the NBI, the PNP Special Action Force (PNP-SAF), and the Bureau of Immigration have enhanced investigative, crisis response, and border security capacity. Multiple agencies have jurisdiction over counterterrorism efforts, leading to inefficient investigations and response to terrorist incidents. Responsibilities between law enforcement and military units involved in counterterrorism missions are often not clear, information sharing is moderate, and command and control arrangements often depend on personal relationships between incident commanders. The focus on counternarcotics has increased workload and operational tempo for security forces. Specialized law enforcement units possess some necessary equipment, but numerous unfulfilled needs remain, and sustainment and maintenance of equipment often exceeds fiscal and human resources. Law enforcement units have a mixed record of accountability and respect for human rights. The president’s Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) provides guidance to agencies responsible for enforcing terrorism laws, but its capacity to enforce coordination between agencies is limited. The ATC supported projects under the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Center of Excellence in coordination with the UN Interregional Crime Justice and Research Institute (UNICRI).

The United States continued to work with the Philippine government to monitor and investigate groups engaged in or supporting terrorist activities in the Philippines. The Joint U.S. Military Assistance Group and the Pacific Augmentation Team provided equipment, training, and support to the government as it launched numerous operations, particularly in the Southern Philippines, to arrest and disrupt terrorist organizations. The Department of State’s Antiterrorism Assistance (ATA) program provided critical counterterrorism training and equipment to the PNP-SAF, Anti‑Kidnapping Group, Anti-Cybercrime Group, and EOD/K9 teams.

Philippine agencies actively coordinated with U.S. authorities, especially regarding suspected terrorists. The under-resourced law enforcement and judicial system, coupled with widespread official corruption, continued to limit domestic investigations and resulted in a small number of prosecutions and lengthy trials of terrorism cases. Philippine investigators and prosecutors lacked necessary tools to build strong cases, including a lack of clear processes for requesting judicially authorized interceptions of terrorist communications, entering into plea bargains with key witnesses, and seizing assets of those suspected of benefiting from terrorism.

The Office of Civil Defense and National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council trained agencies responding to human-induced crisis, including terrorism.

The Philippines issues “e-passports,” which constitute more than 65 percent of all valid passports in circulation. At Manila’s main international airport, the Philippines participated in the INTERPOL Border Management Program and continued using its i24/7 global police communications system to verify traveler data. The Bureau of Immigration installed the Mobile INTERPOL Network Database and Fixed INTERPOL Network Database systems in major airports and seaports.

DHS’ Transportation Security Administration’s aviation security technical assistance continued on multiple fronts, including delivery of an air cargo supply chain security course, joint security assessments with Philippine counterparts, and a partnership with the Department of State’s ATA program to deliver Airport Security Management courses to Philippine agencies. The Philippine government made some advancement in the procurement of body imaging technology and explosive trace detection units for use at Manila Ninoy Aquino International Airport. The Philippines does not require advanced passenger information, but was developing regulations to require it prior to arrival and departure.

Global Security Contingency Fund training to build investigative and maritime skills in the PNP and Philippine Coast Guard continued in 2016, enhancing the ability of the Navy, PNP, and the Coast Guard to integrate operations on the border.

The U.S. Coast Guard’s International Port Security Program has actively engaged in the Philippines to assist with and assess the country’s implementation of counterterrorism measures at international port facilities. The U.S. Coast Guard continued to work with the Philippines on additional capacity-building efforts.

Countering the Financing of Terrorism: The Philippines is a member of the Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering, a Financial Action Task Force-style regional body, and its financial intelligence unit – the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) – is a member of the Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units. In 2016, the Philippines published the first interagency National Risk Assessment on Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing (2011‑2014).

The Anti-Terrorism Council, the AMLC, the National Police’s Directorate of Intelligence, Anti‑Kidnapping Group, the National Bureau of Investigations, the Philippine Center on Transnational Crime (PCTC), and the Special Action Force, worked with U.S. agencies through the Joint Terrorist Financing Investigation Group to pursue investigations into suspected terrorist finance cases in 2016.

As indicated in the 2016 Regional Risk Assessment conducted by Australia’s financial intelligence unit, criminal activity provides a key source of funding for terrorist individuals and organizations in the Philippines. Furthermore, illicit funds are often smuggled across porous land and maritime borders both within the Philippines and between countries in the region. The country is also addressing ongoing gaps regarding customer due diligence according to international standards.

The Philippines has implemented the UN Security Council ISIL (Da’esh) and al-Qa’ida sanctions regime and Taliban (1988) sanctions.

For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2017 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume 2, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes:

Countering Violent Extremism: The Philippines worked with the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) to apply the Rome Memorandum on Good Practices for Rehabilitation and Reintegration of Violent Extremist Offenders. Government organizations, including the ATC, the Law Enforcement and Security Integration Office, and the PCTC, led collaboration on countering violent extremism, counter-radicalization and de-radicalization. In April, the ATC facilitated a national consultation on countering violent extremism (CVE), producing a set of recommendations to formulate a National Action Plan to Prevent and Counter Violent Extremism. The Duterte administration has not released the National Action Plan, but cooperated with international partners and organizations to refine and improve CVE strategies.

The Philippine government worked with the U.S. Pacific Command’s Military Information Support Team, through the Combined Special Outreach Group, a joint AFP-PNP effort to share best practices and combine strategies for public messaging on peace and order and CVE outreach. The International Centre for Counter-Terrorism – The Hague, trained Philippine experts on rehabilitation and reintegration of violent extremist offenders.

In July, the Philippine government hosted the Workshop on Developing Effective Intake, Risk Assessment, and Monitoring Tools and Strategies for Incarcerated Terrorist Offenders, sponsored by the GCTF Detention and Reintegration Working Group. In September, the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology’s Operational Guidelines on Inmate Classification and Counseling Unit Manual were approved.

Regional and International Cooperation: Philippine officials were involved as project implementers, participants, or subject matter experts in trainings, workshops, dialogues, and working group meetings with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum, Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, INTERPOL, ASEANAPOL (the ASEAN National Police), the UN Office of Drugs and Crime, the UN Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute, and the GCTF. Government agencies benefited from capacity building activities provided by the ASEAN-Japan counterterrorism dialogue and the European Union. The Philippines signed a framework on trilateral cooperation with Malaysia and Indonesia on immediate measures to address security in the maritime border region.