Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Violence from criminal syndicates and warring politicians is muddling the Philippine campaign against terror groups, the US State Department said, even as it heaped praised on the help it’s been getting from local agencies.

“This proactive partnership with the Philippine government has yielded solid results in combating terrorist elements,” the 2009 State Department counterterrorism country report (released last week) said.

But the November 23 massacre of 57 people – including 34 journalists – in Maguindanao and other high-profile crimes are indirectly aiding terrorists, the report indicated.

“Many kidnappings or other acts of violence that indiscriminately target innocent people go unsolved, and some shootings and bombings occur in the course of criminal activity unrelated to terrorism,” the report said.

Two people were killed and about two dozen other wounded in an explosion at the Zamboanga City airport last weekend.

Although it sparked fears of a fresh attack from the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), police investigators are saying it was likely politically motivated – allegedly an assassination attempt against Sulu Governor Sakur Tan.

If true, it would have been the second attempt on Tan’s life since last year when he survived another bomb blast in Sulu.

The ASG has a large presence in the province, where it has carried out kidnappings and bombings, and where they can more easily melt into the populace when the government pursues them.

US Special Operations troops maintain an outpost there, training and providing logistical and intelligence gathering support for Filipino troops.

“While not the activities of international terrorism, these developments are indicative of the instability and conflict in the southern Philippines that complicated the government’s efforts during 2009 to combat the terrorist groups harboring there,” the report said.

The US has kept the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and communist New People’s Army (NPA) in its terror list.

The State Department believes the NPA’s numbers have declined from 5,240 to about 4,700 last year, and the ASG from 400 to 390 men.

But even as it continued to post gains against these groups, the report noted that the Philippine government has found little use for a three-year-old law that was bruited to speed up the dismantling of terror networks in the country.

Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo had pushed vigorously for the passage of Republic Act 9372, also known as the 2007 Human Security Act, even in the face of stiff opposition.

“Law enforcement authorities continued to make little use of the 2007 Human Security Act which provided additional counterterrorism tools for law enforcement,” the State Department observed.

That has led to questions whether the law was even needed in the first place.

The US and other nations prodded the Philippines to enact the measure.

The law grants sweeping powers to conduct surveillance, wire-tap suspects, allow police to detain anyone for 72 hours without a warrant, and empowers the government to look into bank records.

It looks draconian, but the report noted, the law is also restrictive.

The report suggested that one reason the government is reluctant to apply the full force of the law were provisions that penalizes misuse, including “stiff fines in cases where the suspect is later acquitted or the case dismissed.”

In many instances, it provides long jail terms for government agents who violate the law’s built-in safeguards.

But the US is hardly complaining, the report showed, as it lauded the cooperation it’s been getting from this “major non-NATO ally”. They’ve signaled unfettered access to suspects and witnesses, in one instance, quickly extraditing to the US a fugitive terrorist arrested abroad but who was transferred to Philippine custody.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is aiding the development of the Philippine Biometric Initiative (PBI) which collects fingerprints, photographs and other information on suspected terrorists that go to databases in the Philippines and US.

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