Cablegate: Philippines: 2008 Country Report On Terrorism


DE RUEHML #2762/01 3570833
O 220833Z DEC 08




E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: STATE 120019

1. SUMMARY: The Philippines remains a key partner of the
United States in our bilateral and multilateral
counterterrorism efforts. As in recent years, during 2008,
terrorist groups active in the Philippines included the Abu
Sayyaf Group (ASG), Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), the New People's
Army (NPA), and Rajah Solaiman Movement (RSM). Partly due to
special historical ties, the Philippine government maintains
a robust and cooperative relationship with the Mission via a
diverse array of bilateral counterterrorism programs with
multiple USG agencies. U.S. intelligence, reconnaissance,
and surveillance support Armed Forces of the Philippines'
operations against terrorist elements in the southern
Philippines, while U.S. Department of Justice
criminal-investigation and antiterrorism programs trained
approximately 5,000 police and other security personnel
during the year. Implementation of the Coastwatch South
program continues to move ahead; its radar stations and
sea-surface and aerial assets will dramatically improve the
government's oversight of the "Terrorist Transit Triangle"
region bordered by the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
The Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs
Enforcement's newly-developed Philippine Biometric Initiative
has provided Philippine National Police with fingerprints,
photographs, and other information on 130 suspected
terrorists. With significant U.S. assistance, Philippine
security forces have continued to make progress against
terrorist groups, killing 35 terrorists and capturing another
16 during the first half of 2008. Those apprehended included
an RSM founder and two bomb-makers in Mindanao. End-of-year
statistics will be reported septel in January, per reftel
instructions. END SUMMARY.

General Assessment

2. Terrorist threats facing the Philippines include the Abu
Sayyaf Group (ASG), Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), Communist Party of
the Philippines/New Peoples Army (CPP/NPA), and Rajah
Solaiman Movement (RSM), all of which are designated as
Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) by the United States.
The U.S. counterterrorism strategy of offering development
opportunities in areas at-risk for terrorist recruitment
continues to marginalize the small remaining numbers of ASG
and JI terrorists from Muslim insurgents in the southern
Philippines. While the 5,000-strong NPA continues to disrupt
public security and business operations with intermittent
attacks on communicatiosn and transportation infrastructure
throughout the Philippines, it continues to decline in
personnel and effectiveness. However, the NPA remainins
steadfast in its refusal to accept President Arroyo's broad
amnesty overtures, turning down offers to negotiate unless
its U.S. and international designation as a terrorist
organization is rescinded. RSM maintains close links to ASG
and JI, and is alleged to have been responsible for multiple
attacks in the Philippines. Embassy Manila worked closely
with Philippine officials on the designation of the Rajah
Solaiman Movement as a terrorist organization by the UN 1267
Committee, and in early 2008, RSM was included in the UN 1267
Committee sanctions list. This has led to the freezing of
RSM bank accounts and real estate. In addition to the above
groups, the Alex Boncayao Brigade (ABB) and the "Pentagon
Gang" are on the U.S. Terrorist Exclusion List, although
during 2008, there were no known terrorist acts attributed to
these two groups in the Philippines, and most ABB members
enjoy amnesty resulting from a 2000 peace agreement.

Safe Haven Assessment

3. Philippine military and law enforcement agencies
conducted intensive civil-military and internal security
operations to eliminate terrorist safe havens in the Sulu
Archipelago and central Mindanao. In the first half of the
year, they captured and arrested 16 terrorists and killed 35.
Statistics for the second half of the year are still being
compiled and will be submitted in a supplemental report. In
July, Ruben Pestano Lavilla, Jr., a leader and founding
member of the RSM, was arrested in Bahrain and deported to
the Philippines. In December, the Court of Appeals ordered
the trial of RSM founder Hiliarion "Ahmad" Santos and other
suspected RSM members for their alleged involvement in
multiple bombings and kidnappings in the Philippines during
2005 and 2006.

4. The passage of the Human Security Act (HSA) in 2007 was a
significant step in the modernization of tools available to
Philippine law enforcement for use against terrorists. The
Act permits wiretapping of members of judicially-designated
terrorist organizations, and financial investigations of
individuals connected to terrorist organizations. However,
the law's tight restrictions have limited its actual
application. The key difficulty in implementing the law is
that stiff fines will be imposed on the law enforcement
agency for violating a suspect's rights if the accused is
later acquitted or the case is dismissed (fines are
approximately $1,000 USD per day for the entire period of
detention). The Act did, however, provide for the
establishment of an Anti-Terrorism Council to effectively
implement anti-terorism efforts in the country and ensure
interagency cooperation. The Council focused its first
year's efforts in building the organizational and
administrative infrastructure necessary to facilitate closer
cooperation between Council members and supporting agencies.
Limited financial resources, inadequate salaries, low morale,
limited cooperation between police and prosecutors,
corruption, and other problems of law enforcement have
hampered bringing terrorists to justice.

Terrorist Organizations

5. The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) is a violent splinter group of
the Moro National Liberation Movement (MNLF); some of its
leaders fought in Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion.
Its stated goal is to establish an independent Islamic state
in western Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago. The group is
heavily involved in kidnappings-for-ransom, bombings, murder,
and extortion. A successful military and law enforcement
campaign has killed or captured most of its leadership and
has reduced the number of armed fighters from over 7,000 to
approximately 300. Most recently, ASG has still been engaged
in a series of kidnappings-for-ransom, smuggling, protection
rackets, and extortion crimes in Mindanao and Basilan island.

6. In June, popular Philippine television journalist Ces
Drilon and three members of her crew were kidnapped by armed
men in an isolated area of Jolo Island in the Sulu
Archipelago, while reportedly en route to an interview with
fugitive ASG leader Radulan Sahiron. Drilon and the others
were released unharmed after 10 days in captivity. While
media and some public officials accused the ASG of having
masterminded these events, others suggested that Drilon's
party had been the victims of a kidnap-for-ranson criminal
gang with no political affiliations, and a local mayor who
served as a negotiator for Drilon's release was afterwards
arrested by the authorities and charged with having
participated in the crime and personally benefited from
ransom payments.

7. Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) is an Indonesian-based terrorist
organization that seeks to establish a pan-Islamic state
across Southeast Asia. The group has conducted a number of
bombings in Indonesia, including the 2002 Bali nightclub
bombings that killed 202 persons and seriously injured more
than 200 others.

8. The New People's Army (NPA), the military arm of the
Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), has conducted a
decades-long campaign against the Philippine government, but
in recent years its activities have been confined mostly to
bombing telecommunications relay stations and extorting
"revolutionary taxes" from corporations. The Alex Boncayao
Brigade, which splintered from the NPA in the mid-1980s, has
committed several murders, including that of Colonel James
Rowe in 1987, when he was assigned to the Joint U.S. Military
Advisory Group (JUSMAG) at the United States Embassy in

9. The Rajah Solaiman Movement (RSM) recruits its members
from Muslims who have converted from Catholicism. Such
recruits lack the accents and racial characteristics normally
associated with individuals from the traditional
conflict-affected regions of Mindanao and the Sulu
Archipelago, making it easier for them to blend into the
population in Manila and other large urban areas. RSM
members have been involved in several plots to bomb public
utilities, tourist areas, and the U.S. Embassy in Manila.
They are also implicated in having cooperated with ASG in the
2005 Valentine's Day bombing in Makati City that killed eight
people, and in the 2004 bombing of a passenger ferry that
killed 116 people.

Foreign Government Cooperation

10. The Embassy enjoyed excellent cooperation from
Philippine law enforcement officials in obtaining access to
terrorist detainees and witnesses for FBI interviews, and
access to criminal, immigration, financial, and biographic
records via the mechanisms established in the U.S. -
Philippine Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT). The
Philippine Security Engagement Board was the primary
mechanism for planning and coordination of nontraditional
security issues, including counterterrorism and maritime
security. Through 2008, the Embassy continued to achieve
significant progress in counterterrorism via well-coordinated
efforts in strengthening security forces and promoting peace
and development in Mindanao. The Philippine government has
been an active partner in this work, which has yielded
excellent results in combating terrorist elements, including
Abu Sayyaf Group, Jemaah Islamiya, and the New People's Army.

11. Post's Anti-Terrorism Assistance (ATA) Program continues
to increase the capabilities of Philippine law enforcement
agencies to detect, deter, counter, and investigate terrorist
activities in the Philippines through carefuly-targeted and
sequenced delivery of training courses and equipment grants.
During 2008, ATA increased its focus on Mindanao by providing
valuable training in a wide range of areas including
Interdicting Terrorist Activity, Explosive Incident
Countermeasures, Post-Blast Investigation, Advanced Computer
Forensics, and Cellphone Forensics. ATA also instituted a
K-9 program of bomb-detection dogs with the Philippine
National Police (PNP), funding U.S.-trained dogs, their
handlers, veterinarians, and kennel facilities.

12. Post's U.S. Department of Justice/International Criminal
Investigative Training Assistance Program (DOJ/ICITAP)
trained 4,197 police personnel in 2008 and pursued police
development efforts primarily through the Model Police
Station Program, which trained PNP personnel at 10 stations
in 15 critical subjects; the Maritime Police Project, which
when completed will equip maritime police in Palawan Province
with special patrol boats to monitor the western Sulu Sea
bordering Malaysia; and the Southern Philippines Rule of Law
Project, which entailed training PNP personnel in basic
police operations and investigation techniques in Sulu

13. Other 2008 programs have included Post's Department of
Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement
(DHS/ICE) development of the Philippine Biometrics
Initiative, whereby fingerprints, photographs, and other
information on suspected terrorists was collected and
provided to the appropriate Philippine authorities. The
Embassy's JUSMAG unit has continued implementing the
Coastwatch South program, which will dramatically improve
oversight of the triborder "Terrorist Transit Triangle" with
the use of 12-17 coastal radar sites connected by a string of
air, ocean, and ground surveillance and interdiction assets,
including 10 rigid-hull inflatable boats (RHIBs) and
Forward-Looking Infrared Radar (FLIR) pods for Philippine
Navy aircraft.

14. The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has
implemented issuance of digitized, machine-readable passports
at all of its locations. The DFA hopes to begin issuing
electronic passports utilizing Radio Frequency Identification
technology in 2009. Post's Consular Section has enjoyed
increased coooperation from Philippine law enforcement
officials responding to our requests for investigations and
arrests of vendors of false documents encountered by consular
officers, but convictions remain rare as the parties often
work out civil settlements prior to the conclusion of a

© Scoop Media

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