Manila – It's official: A total of 33 Jemaah Islamiah (JI) members, all Indonesians, have been operating in the Philippines since the end of last year. The JI cell in the country is called "Wakalah Hedeibiah" and is led by a certain "Mantiqui 3", said the Department of National Defence in a briefing paper.
The paper was submitted to the House Committee on Appropriations regarding the hearing of its 45.1-billion peso budget for 2006. The appropriations committee chair, Mr Rolando Andaya, quoted defence officials as saying that the JI group had "27 assorted firearms".
According to the Defence Department, the military was able to pinpoint the entry routes of the JI members, resulting in the arrest of two suspects. The department identified those arrested as Sammy Abdulgani and one Abdulla Jordan.
The Jemaah Islamiah, believed responsible for the bombings of the Indonesian holiday island of Bali in 2002 and most recently, on Oct 1, has been tagged as the Southeast Asian arm of Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network. It is believed to have links with Mindanao-based armed groups.
Philippine security forces are now bracing for possible terrorist attacks by JI and its Philippine partner, Abu Sayyaf, in Metro Manila.
A senior intelligence of the Armed Forces told The Manila Times that shopping malls, train stations of the Metro Rail Transit and Light Rail Transit and the US Embassy in Manila were among the "possible" targets of the terrorists.
"It's a strong possibility that these terrorists might conduct Bali-type bombings in Metro Manila. We consider the months of November and December the critical period," the intelligence officer, who requested anonymity, said on Oct 11.
As the Philippines braces for terrorist attacks, a commentary in The Philippine Star urged the country's political elites to stop bickering and pass much-needed anti-terrorism laws.
"The endless political bickering in our country has worked to the advantage of all enemies of the state, derailing legitimate law enforcement, creating legislative gridlock and generally setting back economic progress," wrote Ms Ana Marie Pamintuan.
"No measure to strengthen law enforcement can be passed without some leftist militant raising the bogey of human rights violation. The Secretary of Justice cannot talk about contingency plans – to be used, as the term implies, only for emergencies – without the government being suspected of plotting to declare a state of emergency and impose martial law.
"While we were embroiled in endless political skirmishing, the masterminds of the 2002 Bali bombings arrived in the Philippines and found sanctuary in Mindanao, courtesy of Abu Sayyaf chieftain Khadaffy Janjalani and certain elements of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front... The (terrorism) threat is real, and our leaders must rise above politics and paranoia to pass those laws," Miss Pamintuan said.
* DND confirms presence in RP of 33 suspected JI members (The Manila Times, Oct 13)
* Bombers eye malls, trains and US embassy (The Manila Times, Oct 12)
* Response to terror (The Philipine Star, Oct 12)