Why the Philippines remains Asia's weakest link in terror war

Updated On: Sep 13, 2005

Manila - Intelligence gathering in the Philippines is so weak that a lot of the data gathered tends to be a collection of  "rumours, hearsay, fabricated information, material provided by casual and  unauthenticated sources with an agenda or an axe to grind". This, coupled with the absence of anti-terror legislation, has made the Philippines Asia's weakest link in the war against terror four years after 9/11, according to a risk consultancy firm.

   The Philippines' security apparatus is "judged by many international military and security experts to be marginal at best", Mr Scott Harrison, managing director of the Asia-based risk consultancy firm Pacific Strategies and Assessments, (PSA) told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
    "They are severely handicapped by grossly inadequate budget resources and the lack of a truly professional and well-trained cadre of intelligence officers," he said. 
    On intelligence gathering, Mr Harrison said "there is little know-how when it comes to separating the wheat from the chaff".
    As a result, the authorities have made relatively few arrests of any significance in recent years, thus allowing Al-Qaeda-linked terror group Jemaah Islamiah to continue operate in the southern Philippines, other analysts told AFP. 
    The lack of anti-terror legislation has also made any significant prosecution of suspected militants almost impossible, allowing detainees to post bail and walk free within days. 
    "Most suspected terrorists are either charged with illegal possession of firearms or explosives. Both are bailable offences," said Mr Rommel Banlaoi, a professor of political science at the National Defense College of the Philippines
    Mr Banlaoi said there were currently 11 anti-terror bills sitting in the House of Representatives and six in the Senate for consideration. 
    Even National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales admitted that without anti-terror legislation, his hands were tied. "Where else in the world are bombers allowed to walk free after posting 200,000 pesos (about US$3,570) bail?" he  said. 
    The PSA report drew flak from some politicians. They described it as an attempt to discredit the Philippines' chairmanship of the United Nations Security Council. 
    The report, said Mr Antonio Cuenco. chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, "overlooked the country's  accomplishments and vital contribution to the global war against terror".
    In an editorial, The Philippine Star linked lawmakers' reluctance to support tough anti-terrorism legislation to the "martial law mindset".
    The legislators are "reluctant to endorse measures that remotely smack of a return to a police state".
    "In the face of a serious security threat, the nation will have to grow out of its martial law mindset. Safeguards can be put in place to discourage public officials from using anti-terrorism measures for political ends…The nation should not wait for the day when it will deeply regret that lack," the editorial said.

* Report that RP soft on terror 'a smear drive' (The Manila Times, Sept 11)

* The weakest link (The Philippine Star, Sept 10)

* Philippines still seen as weak link in 'war on terror' (Inquirer News Service, Sept 9)