By Arjay L. Balinbin, Reporter
THE PHILIPPINES’ counterterrorism capabilities have improved amid attacks and threats from terrorist groups affiliated with the Islamic State (ISIS), according to the US Department of State’s 2017 Country Reports on Terrorism .
“The Philippines improved its counterterrorism capabilities in the face of an evolving and increasingly robust terrorist threat. The Philippine government consistently acknowledged the dangers from ISIS-affiliated terrorist groups and welcomed assistance from the United States and a range of international partners,” the report said.
In a transcript posted on the US Department of State’s Web site, US Ambassador-at-Large and Coordinator for Counterterrorism Nathan A. Sales said in a special briefing on the release of this report last week, Sept. 19, that “fifty-nine percent of all the attacks took place in five countries [in 2017].
Those are Afghanistan, India, Iraq, Pakistan, and the Philippines.” In his press briefing at Malacañang on Thursday, Presidential Spokesperson Harry L. Roque, Jr. said: “We welcome the favorable review of the US State Department on our ongoing campaign against terrorism and violent extremism.”
The report mentioned the steps undertaken by the Philippine government to fight and prevent terrorism and extremism in the country, especially in Mindanao which is currently under martial law.
“President (Rodrigo R.) Duterte identified amending the Human Security Act of 2007, the country’s principal counterterrorism legislation, as a priority in both of his State of the Nation Addresses. Efforts to revise the legislation, thereby enabling more effective investigation and prosecution of terrorism as a crime, were ongoing at the end of 2017,” the report said.
The US Department of State also said the “interagency information sharing continued to improve among Philippine law enforcement units, despite the country lacking a fully operational 24/7 joint fusion center to monitor and address terrorist threats and activities.”
On the aviation security, the report said the Philippines has increased its capacity “by procuring updated x-ray technology and more widely using explosive trace detection units, but it faced understaffing challenges at security checkpoints and lacked a comprehensive national aviation security strategy.”
“Four Japanese-donated maritime rescue and response vessels allowed the Philippine Coast Guard to extend its maritime security capabilities in key areas of their Exclusive Economic Zone and the Sulu Sea,” it added.
The Philippines, through its participation in the Department of State’s Antiterrorism Assistance (ATA) program, “received training and equipment on crisis response, border security, and investigations — including cyber investigations,” the report also read.