MANILA, Philippines—While citing its “strong counterterrorism cooperation” with the Philippines, the United States noted that “official corruption” and resource and personnel constraints had stymied the country’s antiterror campaign.
In its latest Country Reports on Terrorism released this week, the US Department of State, however, lauded the Philippines continuing pressure on known terror groups, saying that its efforts in the last decade “have been successful at isolating and constraining the activities of domestic and transnational terrorists.”
Mindanao remains classified as a “terrorist haven” due to the presence of the al-Qaida linked Abu Sayyaf which the US had tagged as a foreign terrorist organization. The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA), also remain on the terror list.
“The Philippines has coordinated with US law enforcement authorities, especially regarding US fugitives and suspected terrorists. An under-resourced and understaffed law enforcement and justice system coupled with widespread official corruption, however, resulted in limited domestic investigations, unexecuted arrest warrants, few prosecutions, and lengthy trials of cases,” said the report released on May 30.
The report noted, for instance, that the proscription case the Philippine Department of Justice (DOJ) brought against the Abu Sayyaf, the first of its kind that sought to officially tag the group as a terrorist organization under the 2007 Human Security Act, had remained pending by the end of last year.
The US also cited a Manila court’s dismissal of an extradition case against an Abu Sayyaf leader, which the American side had indicted on “criminal hostage-taking charges” for the 1993 abduction of US national Charles Walton.
The latest country report released this month assessed “trends and events” in global terrorism from January to December of last year.
But the report noted successes, including the June 21 arrest of a suspected Abu Sayyaf member involved in the 2001 abduction of US citizens Martin and Gracia Burnham and Guillermo Sobero. A group of 14 Abu Sayyaf members were earlier sentenced to life in prison in 2007 for the kidnapping and deaths of Sobero, Martin Burham and Filipino nurse Ediborah Yap.
The US also noted a police operation that resulted in the death of suspected Malaysian Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) member Mohammad Noor Fikrie bin Abdul Kahar on Dec. 14, who was known to be carrying a bomb in his backpack at the time.
“The Philippines maintained its strong counterterrorism cooperation with the United States. The ability of terrorist groups, including the Abu Sayyaf, JI and the CPP-NPA, to conduct terrorist activities in the Philippines remained constrained,” the US state department said.
It cited limited operations of a declining number of Abu Sayyaf and JI members, and the CPP-NPA’s shrinking opportunities “to organize, plan, raise funds, communicate, recruit, train and operate” despite its national presence.
“Terrorist groups’ acts were generally limited to criminal activities designed to generate revenue for self-sustainment, such as kidnapping for ransom or extortion. Nonetheless, members of these groups were suspected to have carried out bombings against government, public and private facilities, primarily in the central and western areas of Mindanao; others were linked to extortion operations in other parts of the country,” the report said.
The US also noted the continuing implementation of the country’s Internal Peace and Security Plan, which facilitates a military-to-civilian shift in internal security operations.