The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is verifying reports from neighboring countries that foreign Islamic State (IS) terrorists have entered the southern part of the Philippines, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Tuesday.
“That is what we have been finding out for now and we are trying to confirm reports that there are foreign terrorists inside the country especially in Mindanao,” Lorenzana said in a news conference after the traditional joint defense and military New Year’s Call at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.
He revealed that Malaysia and Indonesia have been sending reports to the Philippines about the “increase” in foreign terrorists entering the southern back door of the country, including the provinces of Tawi-tawi and Sulu.
“[Our monitoring] is ongoing. We are intensifying our monitoring there in the south and as of now, we cannot confirm the presence of the foreign terrorists. But there are homegrown terrorists there in the south, we are sure of that,” Lorenzana explained.
“We are trying to verify that up to now and for now, we cannot confirm it yet. Our intelligence gathering has been continuous,” he added.
The Defense chief came up with the statement months after he disclosed that the government was closely monitoring returning IS fighters from Iraq and Syria and preparing for the arrests of the terrorists.
During the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Defense Ministers’ Meeting in October, Lorenzana confirmed he had received a list of names of terrorists who went to the Middle East.
But Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., commander of the AFP’s Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom), downplayed the possibility of foreign terrorists entering the country.
“I think they have already seen the result of the Marawi siege. So, it’s a stern warning for them not to go here,” Galvez told reporters in a separate interview.
Galvez’s area of command, WestMinCom, was the lead unit in the fight with the IS-linked Maute terrorists in Marawi City, which lasted for five months last year.
It resulted in the deaths of more than 1,000 people, including terrorists, soldiers and civilians.