US State Dept: PH drug war has shifted manpower and resources away from counterterror efforts
MANILA (UPDATE) - The Philippines is among five countries where the highest number of terror attacks were recorded in 2016 even as the global figure decreased last year, the US State Department said in a report released Wednesday.
The agency said more than half of the 11,072 worldwide attacks last year took place in Iraq, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and the Philippines.
"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," the US State Department report said.
It called the ISIS "the most potent terrorist threat to global security."
"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," it said.
Among attacks cited by the agency were the discovery of a bomb near the US Embassy in Manila in November, the Abu Sayyaf Group's beheading of several hostages throughout last year, the deadly September bombing in Davao City, clashes between state forces and communist rebels in July, and the siege of Butig town, Lanao del Sur by Islamic State-linked fighters in November.
The 2016 US Country Reports on Terrorism came out just as Philippine forces continued to battle ISIS-inspired Maute and Abu Sayyaf fighters that have besieged Marawi City in restive Mindanao for nearly two months now.
The Maute group was also behind attacks in Butig town and the Davao City bombing, among incidents cited in the US report.
The ongoing Marawi conflict, where several foreign fighters were seen, marked an emergence of local terror groups pledging allegiance to the Islamic State.
In its report, the US government also cited how President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs has shifted manpower and resources of security forces away from the fight against terrorism.
"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," the report read.
The report said Duterte's focus on anti-narcotics efforts "slowed progress towards shifting internal security functions" from the military to the Philippine National Police (PNP), which leads the drug fight.
Malacañang previously denied that the campaign against terror took a backseat because of Duterte's focus on narcotics.
"As early as August last year, one and a half month after [Duterte] assumed presidency, the President already told the Philippine military to be ready with ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) and warned that the country would be plagued with the ISIS disease,” Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said in June.
The US House of Representatives' human rights body is set to hold a hearing on "the human rights consequences" of Duterte's drug war in Washington on Thursday. Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said government expects due process in the investigation.
Malacañang on Thursday meanwhile assured the public that the government is addressing terrorism seriously.
Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said the government is “confronting, engaging the situation [using] the whole system approach.”
Abella noted the administration’s peace dialogues with various Moro groups aimed at addressing issues long plaguing Mindanao, a lingering problem seen as a possible root of radicalization.
“We recognized that poverty in Mindanao and the sense of hopelessness it brings spawns terrorism. It is for this reason that while we’re fighting terrorism, we ‘re also fighting poverty,” Abella said.
RECOGNIZING PH EFFORTS
The US State Department meanwhile noted that Duterte has pursued a federal system of government and peace talks with rebel groups in a bid to curb the spread of radicalism in Mindanao.
"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," the agency said.
Philippine agencies, it added, have enhanced investigative, crisis response, and border security capacity.
The agency said Washington continues to work with Manila to monitor terror activities, and provide training and equipment to troops.
Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research president retired Gen. Boogie Mendoza Jr. said the government should not just address terrorism on the ground but on the ideological battlefield as well.
"I believe that our country must pursue some paradigm shift in countering terrorism or violent extremism and must initiate a deeper and wider strategic investment in the ideological battlefield," he said in an interview on ANC's "Dateline Philippines."
Mendoza added that a regional approach to counter terrorism is not enough, and called for the intervention of Western countries.
"I think it is important for the west to rekindle the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) connection in countering terrorism because, as what I am seeing, it is not enough [that] the regional cooperation is existing," he said. --With a report from Dharel Placido, ABS-CBN News