Combatting Terrorism: The Philippines’ Struggle and International Support

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Over the years, The Philippines has stepped up efforts to combat terrorist organizations in the country and tackle money laundering, mainly when used to fund illicit weapons proliferation. Manila works with international organizations and partners such as Australia and the US to strengthen domestic agencies and improve training and collaboration. 

Counter-terrorism in the Philippines has been traditionally a military obligation, and while the military CT forces can clear terrorist safe havens, vulnerable local governments and law enforcement units are unable, and often unintended, to hold and build in isolated areas such as Mindanao. Since 2010, the Philippine government has tried to pass the domestic CT assignment from the military to the national police. 

The Philippines faces the most diverse set of internal security challenges in Southeast Asia. The Philippine communist uprising, known as the New People’s Army (NPA), has existed since 1968 and is—in the eyes of the Philippine government—the most consequential internal security threat because of the NPA’s dispersed nature and ability to influence the Philippine capital region on the island of Luzon.

January’s 2015 miserable conflict between members of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force and members of the Islamic separatist group understood as the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters underlined several notable security tendencies in the Philippines. This incident spotlighted the long-standing connections between Southeast Asian terrorist groups, the continuing fluctuation in the Philippines, and the new and growing role of the Philippine National Police in the CT task that had been overwhelmed by the Philippine military until 2010.

Now, The Philippine government is striving to mitigate dangers posed by terrorist organizations such as the Abu Sayyaf Group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), the Communist Party of the Philippines’ New People’s Army, and the Islamic State group. Although terrorist attacks have declined in recent years, the groups continue to clash with government forces. In early December 2023, for example, Philippine troops fought with BIFF and the Islamic State group in the southern province of Maguindanao del Sur, leaving 11 suspected militants killed.

Moreover, American Counterterrorism support came in the form of hundreds of millions of dollars of security allowanceand the continual deployment of U.S. troops to the Philippines to prepare and advise the Philippine CT forces. Due to the connections between the Abu Sayyaf Group and al-Qa’ida, ASG has been the primary emphasis of Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines (OEF-P) for the US. 

Through OEF-P, American advisers have enabled the Philippine security forces to prevent and severely disrupt ASG to the end where the group no longer poses a substantial threat to the Philippine capital region in Luzon. But despite the pledge of the Philippine government and the support of the United States, ASG and other Islamic separatist groups remain persistent security challenges within the Philippines.

In July 2023, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. ordered adopting a national strategy to counter money laundering, terrorism, and proliferation financing through 2027. The plan outlines the government’s and other stakeholders’ objectives and priorities to enhance such initiatives and address challenges identified by international assessments.

In September 2023, the U.S. Justice Department’s International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program performed a five-day course in Manila on countering terrorist financing and investigating money laundering. Senior officers from the Philippine National Police observed the course, which was conducted in collaboration with the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism.

A month later, Marcos allocated a memorandum directing government agencies to formulate plans and programs to implement the national strategy. Among the preferences is removing the Philippines from the “gray list” of the Paris-based FATF, which has been listed since 2021 after failing to handle gaps in its efforts to combat terrorism financing.

“The Philippines shall not be used as a money laundering site for the proceeds of any unlawful activity,” the memorandum commented, specifying “the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, and financing of terrorism.” It tasked the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC), a government agency established in 2001, with leading a national working group to assess risks and develop prevention and mitigation measures.

The AMLC hosted the 2023 Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Summit in late November. The online event with Australian and U.S. partner agencies sought to bolster collaboration and strengthen compliance. “This convergence of stakeholders reflects a collective endeavor to mitigate financial threats, championing professional excellence, and a united front,” an AMLC news release commented.

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