As Islamic jihadists fuelled a huge spike in terror attacks last year with the global death toll soaring 81 percent, the Philippines witnessed a 24 percent drop in attacks, a US State Department report released in Washington on Friday (Saturday in the Philippines) said.
According to the Country Reports on Terrorism 2014 prepared by the State Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism, the drop in the number of attacks was attributed to the improved cooperation between Manila and Washington.
“Terrorist groups, including the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), Jemaah Islamiya (JI), and the Communist People’s Party/New People’s Army (CPP/NPA), were unable to conduct major attacks compared to previous years due to continuous pressure from Philippine counterterrorism and law enforcement efforts. Terrorist groups’ acts included criminal activities designed to generate revenue for self-sustainment, such as kidnapping for ransom, extortion, and bombings for hire,” the report which was posted on the State Department’s website said.
The report however said that despite “sustained pressure on terrorist organizations,” terrorist and rebel groups in Mindanao managed to retained its capability to make improvised bombs and engage in small-scale attacks.
The State Department likewise gave credit to the progress in the implementation of the country’s Internal Peace and Security Plan which calls for the transition of internal security operations from the military to the Philippine National Police. It however branded the transition as “slow and ineffective”.
“Continued violent extremist activity, as well as counterterrorism gaps between the AFP and the PNP, slowed this transition and forced the AFP to continue playing the lead counterterrorism role in the Philippines,” the report said.
The State Department also took note of the government’s push to enact the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law and efforts to curb the potential threat posed by radical supporters of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the risk of ISIL elements traveling to the Philippines to promote violent extremism in the country or seek safe haven as among the situations to watch out for in the Philippines.
Commenting on the State Department’s report, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said the Philippines is “firmly determined to address these challenges”.
“Government is firmly determined to address these challenges through intensified security measures and pursuit of peace-building initiatives,” he said in a text message.
The State Department report mentioned the Aquino administration’s move to prioritize having the 2007 Human Security Act amended to enable it to conform to international standards; ease the strict monetary penalties and prison terms against law enforcement officials involved in cases where individuals are wrongly accused and later acquitted; and remove barriers to support investigations. “The (Anti-Terrorism Council) Project Management Center, in coordination with the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) Secretariat and the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office, ensured the final version of the HSA was fully in line with the Terrorism Financing Prevention Act and other Anti-Money Laundering Act and Philippine government initiatives prior to submission to the House of Representatives,” the report said.
While the report criticizes the limited capabilities and “mixed record of accountability and respect for human rights of specialized counterterrorism units like the National Bureau of Investigation and the PNP Special Action Force, it gave credit to the continued improvement in the security of Philippine passports.
It also mentioned the country’s commitment to improve transportation and port security by increasing security capabilities at its airports, seaports, and bus terminals.
The State Department report moreover said an “under-resourced and understaffed law enforcement and judicial system, coupled with widespread official corruption” led to “limited domestic investigations, unexecuted arrest warrants, few prosecutions, and lengthy trials of cases.”
“Philippine investigators and prosecutors lacked necessary tools to build strong cases, including a lack of clear processes for requesting judicially-authorized interception of terrorist communications, entering into plea bargains with key witnesses, and seizing assets of those suspected in benefiting from terrorism,” it said.
The full State Department reported said there were 13,463 attacks in 95 countries in 2014 — up by a third from the year before — with Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan bearing the brunt of extremist violence, the State Department said in a report.
The largest number of attacks were carried out by Islamic State (IS) militants, who unleashed 1,083 assaults last year as part of a deadly march across Iraq and Syria. The Taliban were the next most lethal group, with 894 attacks.
There was also a sharp rise in violence in Nigeria, where Boko Haram’s Islamist militants have been spreading terror in the north. Some 7,512 people were killed in 662 attacks.
The report also highlighted a rise in “lone offender violent extremists in the West” such as the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January in Paris.
“The terrorism challenges that we face continue to evolve at a rapid pace and we cannot predict with precision what the landscape will look like one decade or even really a year from now,” said top US counterterrorism envoy Tina Kaidanow, unveiling the 2014 Country Reports on Terrorism.
“We must do more to address the cycle of violent extremism and transform the very environment from which these terrorist movements emerge.”
Acknowledging that most of the recorded attacks were in war zones, Kaidanow denounced the “savagery” seen last year which had spurred the high death toll.
Kidnappings also jumped by a third, with more than 9,400 people taken hostage, three times as many as in 2013. Ransoms have been used by both IS and Al-Qaeda as an effective way to raise money.
But Kaidanow said the numbers did not tell the whole story, saying the US has been effective over the past year in building up a coalition to help fight militant groups, choke off funding and stem the flow of foreign fighters.
ARES P. GUTIERREZ, CATHERINE S. VALENTE AND AFP