Country Report on Terrorism 2018 - Chapter 1 - Philippines

Overview: Since defeating groups affiliated with ISIS at the siege of Marawi in 2017, the Philippine government has closely tracked terrorist groups that continue to operate in some areas, particularly in the southern Philippines. In 2018, the government further deepened close counterterrorism cooperation with the United States, enhancing military and law enforcement efforts to address the full spectrum of terrorist threats. The Philippine government acknowledged threats from terrorist groups affiliated with ISIS and welcomed assistance from the United States and other international partners. In 2018, the Philippines joined the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.

Groups affiliated with ISIS-Philippines attempted to recover from losses sustained in the 2017 Marawi siege, recruiting and training new members and staging attacks with IEDs and small arms, and targeting security forces and civilians. Government counterterrorism operations thwarted these attempts to occupy territory in the Philippines. Overall, terrorist incidents declined compared with 2017. ISIS affiliates active in the Philippines in 2018 included parts of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), the Maute Group, Ansar al-Khalifa Philippines (AKP), and elements of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). The Philippines remained a destination for FTFs from Indonesia and Malaysia, and a potential destination for those fleeing Syria and Iraq.

The Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) made progress toward political settlement of long-running insurgencies. In July, the Philippine Congress passed, and President Duterte signed, the Bangsamoro Organic Law (also called the Bangsamoro Basic Law), to implement the previous administration’s peace agreement with the MILF. Some MILF fighters and breakaway groups, including BIFF, ASG, AKP, and the Maute Group, continued to oppose a peace agreement. The Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army continued attacks on security forces and civilians and the government sustained military and law enforcement operations against the group.

2018 Terrorist Incidents: Terrorist attacks against civilians and security forces continued, though at a slower pace than the previous year. ISIS claimed that a German-Moroccan terrorist carried out a July 31 suicide VBIED attack in Lamitan, Basilan. The government linked the attack, which killed 10 people, to the ASG. It blamed radical factions of the BIFF, AKP, and remnants of the Maute Group for other terrorist attacks in Western Mindanao. The government held the BIFF responsible for IED attacks on civilian targets in Isulan, Sultan Kudarat on August 28 and September 2 that collectively killed six people and wounded more than 40. The ASG continued terrorist activities in the Sulu Archipelago, though defections from the group increased and Philippine media observed that the tempo of kidnapping-for-ransom operations declined.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: The country’s main counterterrorism legislation includes the 2007 Human Security Act (HSA) and the 2012 Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act. In 2018, the Government of the Philippines proposed amendments that would strengthen the HSA by covering preparatory acts and reducing administrative hurdles to terrorism prosecutions. These amendments were pending in Congress at the end of 2018.

Investments in personnel and training for the Philippine National Police’s (PNP) Special Action Force and other specialized police units resulted in improvements to law enforcement’s ability to detect, deter, and prevent terrorist acts. The government stepped up law enforcement and judicial responses to terrorism, detaining terrorism suspects, disrupting plots, continuing terrorism-related investigations and prosecutions, and securing the first trial conviction for terrorism charges under the HSA. A Philippine court granted a U.S. request for the extradition of Russell Salic to face charges stemming from his alleged involvement in a plot to attack New York City targets, though extradition was pending appeal at year’s end, as Salic faces prosecution in the Philippines on separate charges. In October, Philippine authorities detained a suspect allegedly involved in placing an IED near the U.S. Embassy in Manila in November 2016. The PNP continued to participate in the Department of State’s Antiterrorism Assistance program and used the training and equipment received for post-blast investigations and other actions to prevent and respond to terrorist incidents.

The government worked towards compliance of UNSCR 2396, taking steps to curb terrorist travel. The Bureau of Immigration (BI) used deportation and exclusion against foreign nationals suspected of terrorist links. For example, the BI deported a suspected Egyptian ISIS commander in October. Although the BI screened against domestic and INTERPOL watchlists at ports of entry, additional capacity is needed to collect API and PNR. The Department of Foreign Affairs, National Bureau of Investigation, and Philippine Center for Transnational Crime worked with INTERPOL to enhance collection and reporting of lost and stolen passport information. Interagency information sharing further improved among Philippine law enforcement units and with international partners. The Philippines continues its efforts to increase aviation security capacity by procuring of advance screening technologies, additional training, strengthening oversight programs, information sharing, and closer collaboration with foreign partners. However, despite ongoing efforts by the United States and other international partners to meet international standards for security requirements at airports, the Manila International Airport continued to fail assessments. The U.S. Transportation Security Administration issued a public notice in December alerting travelers of the deficiencies.

Countering the Financing of Terrorism: The Philippines is a member of the Asia/Pacific Group (APG) on Money Laundering, a FATF-style regional body. Its FIU, the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC), is a member of the Egmont Group. The Philippines continued efforts to bring its banking controls up to international standards following a 2017 National Risk Assessment that identified key terrorism finance vulnerabilities. In November, President Duterte approved an executive order adopting a new National AML/CFT Strategy and establishing a National AML/CFT Coordinating Committee with AMLC as its secretariat, to facilitate interagency coordination on AML/CFT issues. The Joint Terrorist Financing Investigation Group continued to work with the United States to investigate suspected terrorist finance cases.

For additional information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes.

Countering Violent Extremism: The government continued efforts to finalize a CVE National Action Plan that will outline a whole-of-government strategy. Various government agencies developed and implemented CVE training for security forces and civil servants. Local governments, civil society, and the private sector partnered to mitigate conflicts, build social cohesion, expand opportunities for youth, and address other drivers of terrorist radicalization. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) worked with local stakeholders to encourage defections from the ASG, BIFF, and the Maute Group, and to rehabilitate former fighters. The government also supported strategic communications efforts to counter terrorist messaging, using AFP-supported media to highlight a May declaration against terrorism by a group of Philippine imams. The AFP and the PNP both have nascent counter-messaging operations.

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. The Philippines joined other Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) members in supporting the “Our Eyes” initiative to enhance the regional exchange of terrorism information. The Philippines continues to support counterterrorism efforts as a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the ASEAN Regional Forum, and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation.