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A Safe and Secure Summit amidst Filipino War against Terror?

Updated On: Jan 09, 2007

The Philippines is putting on its best show for the ASEAN Summit. But are its best efforts enough? 16 world leaders (10 from ASEAN and 6 regional powers) will be the evaluators of these efforts.

For a start, 1500 security guards were deployed to shopping malls in Cebu to boost the number of guards already assigned to every mall. These guards have been trained to strictly screen mall pedestrians for extra safety. The Philippines navy is already patrolling the waters off the hotel in which the leaders are staying, and the air force will enforce a 32 km no-fly zone around the Mactan airport.

To keep vital communications open, Philippines is also showcasing one of its most successful industries, the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector. Led by the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company (PLDT) and Smart and Globe, Cebu is working hard to keep the internet connection going for the guests of the Summit, a difficult task given the disruption of the internet services for the past weeks due to undersea cables damaged by the Taiwan earthquake.

But are these measures enough? Australia and Canada are already warning of possible terrorist attacks. Both are opposed to holding the Summit outside the capital city, given the secluded location as a barrier for rapid reinforcements of troops. Britain also warned its citizens against traveling to Cebu.

To counter criticisms like these, the Philippines military has over the past week highlighting its “successes” in the war against terrorism, and President Arroyo has assured her fellow Asian leaders that security was in place as “Filipino soldier and people are on watch every hour of the day, determined to do their share to defeat terror for a more secure and safer world”.

Armed Forces chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said the military is gaining successes in eliminating the terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). “I am announcing that we are winning, we are on track and will continue to win,” Esperon told a press briefing after a command conference with top commanders to review the state of the country's military.

He boasted of a record in getting rid of some 850 communist rebels in 2006 and recovery of some 556 firearms. Against the Abu Sayyaf, 81 Abu Sayyaf members were eliminated with the recovery of eight firearms. “In most parameters we have gained advantage against the Abu Sayyaf. The AFP [Armed Forces of thePhilippines] has continued to have kept them on the run and have prevented them from escalating or carrying out their planned terror attacks,” said the glowing Esperon.

Esperon attributed the successes to his Commander-in-Chief, “Under the command and with the all out support of the President and the Secretary of National Defense, Her Excellency Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the AFP once again reaffirms its deep commitment and dedication to be of service to the Filipino people.”

Masked by these self-congratulatory messages, the Philippines has conveniently forgotten that it has been seen as the weakest link in the fight against terror inSoutheast Asia.  Over the past years several convicted and jailed terrorists had escaped because of corruption and lax security in the prison.   Fortunately, with the help of the American military, it is boosting its anti-terror efforts.  The Americans have been the Philippines' most important element in suppressing the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group active in its southern islands of Basilan and the Sulu archipelago. Without the US military, the Philippines would not have been able to disrupt Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) activities on Mindanao island. For longer-term measures against terrorism, the Americans have also been generously providing aid to civilians to deter them from becoming recruits for terrorist groups.  

Sources:

Arroyo assures security in place for Asean summit (Straits Times Interactive, 8 January 2007)

Security concerns loom over Asean summit (Straits Times, 8 January 2007)

Military says 7 Abu Sayyaf gunmen killed, 2 others arrested (Jakarta Post, 7 January 2007)

Esperon says military winning against terrorists, communists (Philippines News Agency/ Balita.org, 6 January 2007)

Security at malls tightened for ASEAN delegates (Manila Bulletin, 6 Jan)

Palace assures safety of ASEAN Summit delegates (Manila Bulletin, 5 Jan)