Country Report on Terrorism 2019 - Chapter 1 - Philippines

Overview: The Philippine government adapted its military, law enforcement, and counter-radicalization efforts to address shifting threats from terrorist groups that continued to operate primarily in the country’s South. The Philippines continued to cooperate with the United States, notably enhancing law enforcement and other efforts to address the full spectrum of terrorist threats. Philippine military, law enforcement, and judicial authorities participated in numerous U.S. capacity-building programs, and used the training and equipment they received to prevent and respond to terrorist incidents.

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. ISIS-Philippines affiliates active in 2019 included elements of 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 FTFs from Indonesia, Malaysia, and countries in the Middle East and Europe.

The Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) made progress toward a political settlement of long-running insurgencies. In January, residents of the region passed a referendum to ratify the Bangsamoro Organic Law to implement the national government’s peace agreement with the MILF. Ratification of the law established a new, more autonomous regional government led by the MILF in February. However, some rogue MILF elements and breakaway groups, including BIFF, ASG, AKP, and the Maute Group, continued to oppose the peace process. The Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army (CPP/NPA) continued attacks on security forces and civilians, and the government sustained military and law enforcement operations against the group.

2019 Terrorist Incidents: Terrorists continued to target civilians and security forces with IEDs and small arms, and the emergence of suicide bombings posed new challenges for Philippine security forces.

  • An Indonesian couple carried out a complex suicide attack during Mass at the Jolo Cathedral in Sulu on January 27, killing 23 people and wounding 102. Philippine officials linked the plot to the ASG and ISIS, both of which claimed responsibility for the bombing.
  • In Sultan Kudarat, the BIFF was implicated in IED attacks on civilian targets that wounded dozens, and a foiled IED attack at a Catholic chapel.
  • Two men, including the first Filipino implicated in a suicide bombing, carried out a complex suicide attack against a military unit deployed to combat the ASG in Sulu on June 28, killing eight and wounding at least 20.
  • A woman conducted a suicide attack at the entrance to a military camp in Sulu on September 8.
  • Security forces thwarted an apparent suicide bombing plot in a November 5 firefight in Sulu, recovering suicide vests from two FTFs killed in the encounter. Terrorist groups abducted Filipino, Malaysian, Indonesian, and British victims.
  • Two British citizens were kidnapped in Zamboanga del Sur on October 4 by armed men the government later said were members of ASG. The victims were recovered on November 25 in Sulu following military operations in the area.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: The country’s main CT legislation includes the 2007 Human Security Act (HSA) and the 2012 Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act (TF Law). Proposed amendments to strengthen the HSA by covering preparatory acts and reducing administrative hurdles to terrorism prosecutions remained pending in Congress at the end of 2019. The Philippine government published a list of groups designated as terrorist organizations that included ISIS East Asia and the CPP/NPA. Investments in personnel and training for the Philippine National Police Special Action Force and other specialized law enforcement units improved the government’s capacity to detect, deter, and prevent terrorist acts. The government continued law enforcement and judicial responses to terrorism, disrupting plots and investigating and prosecuting terrorists. A regional trial court convicted a Maute Group sniper for violating the Philippine Act on Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law.

The Philippine government made progress toward compliance with UNSCR 2396, taking steps to curb terrorist travel and improving information sharing with foreign partners. The Bureau of Immigration (BI) used deportation and exclusion to remove several FTFs. Although the BI screened against domestic and INTERPOL watchlists at ports of entry, additional capacity is needed to collect API/PNR. The government worked with INTERPOL to enhance collection and reporting of lost and stolen passport information. The Philippines improved aviation security through closer collaboration with foreign partners, with enhanced screening technologies and training, and with strengthened oversight programs and information sharing.

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) issued a public notice in December 2018 alerting travelers of deficiencies at Manila International Airport. The government implemented improvements, and TSA rescinded the notice in August 2019 after a follow-up assessment showed the airport is now adequately implementing international security standards and recommended practices established by ICAO.

Countering the Financing of Terrorism: The Philippines is a member of the Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering (APG), a FATF-style regional body. Its FIU, the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC), is a member of the Egmont Group. The October APG Mutual Evaluation Report noted improvements in technical compliance since 2009, as well as vulnerabilities in light of the Philippines’ continued high terrorism-finance-risk profile and mature support networks that sustain terrorist groups. The AMLC announced in November that it had seized $1 million from terrorism suspects; however, legislative and procedural hurdles continued to impede efforts to prevent, investigate, and prosecute money laundering and terrorism finance. In May, prosecutors used the TF Law to file charges against a suspect for support to the ASG. AMLC increased CFT cooperation with international partners. The Joint Terrorism Financial Investigations Group continued to work with the United States to investigate terrorism finance cases.

Countering Violent Extremism: The Philippines finalized a National Action Plan on Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism and developed and implemented CVE training for security forces and civil servants. Local governments, NGOs, and the private sector partnered on CVE programs. The Philippines established a Country Support Mechanism to coordinate GCERF funding for CVE programs. The Armed Forces of the Philippines worked with local stakeholders to encourage defections from the ASG, BIFF, and the Maute Group, and to rehabilitate former fighters. The Philippine government also supported strategic communications efforts to counter terrorist messaging.

International and Regional Cooperation: The Philippine Navy continued joint patrols with its Indonesian and Malaysian counterparts under a June 2017 trilateral arrangement to combat piracy, terrorism, and the illegal drug trade. Official law enforcement coordination under this mechanism is limited, although the relevant agencies collaborate at the operational level. The Philippines continues to support CT efforts as a member of ASEAN, the ASEAN Regional Forum, and APEC.