Unlike its decision to deploy troops to Iraq before the ouster of President Saddam Hussein in 2003, the Philippines will not be sending ground soldiers to the current United States-led international coalition to battle the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Thursday.
But Charles Jose, Foreign Affairs spokesman, told a news briefing that the Philippines is supporting the international coalition led by the United States and joined by at least 40 countries.
It remains unclear, though, which countries are on the list and the precise role they will play. Some of those reportedly participating are Australia, France, Great Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, Canada, Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, Iran and Iraqi Kurdistan.
“With regard to the international coalition that is being formed, the Philippines, being a responsible member of the international community, we will consider in what ways we can contribute to this effort without necessarily sending ground troops to the area,” Jose said.
In his speech about the ISIS last week, US President Barack Obama called on America’s allies and partners to degrade and eventually destroy the extremist group that already killed two American journalists and one British aid worker.
The US conducted more than 150 air strikes in Iraq against ISIS, and is currently gathering information on the group’s camps in Syria, where the White House shifted its focus from ousting President Bashar al-Assad to bringing to an end ISIS’ reign of terror.
The Philippines almost strained its relationship with the United States when it pulled out its troops, consisting of some 60 medics, engineers and soldiers, from Iraq in July 2004, a month ahead of its August 20 mandated exit date.
The withdrawal of troops by Manila, one of Washington’s staunchest supporters in its “war on terror” campaign after the bombing of the twin towers in New York in 2001, was provoked by the kidnapping of Filipino truck driver Angelo dela Cruz.
Concerned intelligence agencies in the Philippines are monitoring the movements of Filipinos after a report came out that 100 Filipinos were recruited by the ISIS, and that two Filipinos died fighting alongside the group in March this year.
Jose said the department is deferring intelligence matters to the proper authorities but he reiterated that the Philippines should be able to counter the “sophistication” of the ISIS’ recruitment process.
“We should be able to find ways to counter that. We’ll find ways,” he added.
Jose clarified that Filipinos are not singled out for the ISIS recruitment. Other nationalities, he said, are also being recruited based on reports of intelligence agencies.
It would be difficult to track the departure and arrival of Filipinos, he admitted, but “we should be working with other agencies, including immigration and intelligence to find how we can track and possibly plug this loophole.”
Jose said a “confidential memo” was issued by the department on March 20, but he said the report of two Filipinos dying alongside the ISIS “remains unverified and unconfirmed up to this day.”
The memo contained a report from the Philippine Embassy in Damascus that the Syrian government told them of two Filipinos being killed while fighting with the anti-Syrian government opposition.
The embassy, however, was never able to confirm this report and they have not seen the remains of the deceased Filipinos, Jose said.
BERNICE CAMILLE V. BAUZON