Washington – Amid concerns that the southern province of Mindanao is serving as a haven for foreign terrorists, President Gloria Arroyo can take some comfort in the fact that her administration’s efforts in tackling the problem have not gone unappreciated in Washington. In its latest report on global terrorism, the US State Department cited the Philippines as one of those countries in the Asia-Pacific region which had strengthened their anti-terrorism efforts in 2004.
The State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism: Assessing Countries and Providing Information on Terrorist Groups, released on April 27, said the fight against terrorism in the Philippines had “matured beyond arrests towards prosecution”.
The report noted that the newly-created Anti-terrorism Task Force had captured more than 60 suspected terrorists in its first five months of existence while Philippine courts had sentenced 17 members of the notorious Abu Sayyaf Group to death.
Manila, through its Anti-money Laundering Council, had also “made progress in tracking, blocking and seizing terrorist assets”, the report added.
The State Department continues to include the Abu Sayyaf and the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) on its list of foreign terrorist organisations (FTOs). Any group which is on the FTO list will have its assets blocked worldwide while its members will be barred from receiving any financial assistance.
However, in what must have come as a relief to the Arroyo government, the 12,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), is not included in the 40 FTOs listed in the report. The Arroyo government had appealed to Washington to keep the MILF out of the list to allow for peace negotiations with the Muslim rebels to proceed.
In its report, the State Department described the Abu Sayyaf as "a small, violent Muslim terrorist group operating in southern Philippines". It noted that the Abu Sayyaf – whose leaders are described as “proponents of radical Islamic teachings” - financed its terror activities through ransom and extortion. The group has also received financial support from Islamic extremists in the Middle East and logistical support from regional terror groups.
On the other hand, the CPP-NPA’s supposed external aid is not extensive, the report said. Though the US puts the CPP-NPA's strength at 9,000, it is still vague on the group's financial resources. "Although primarily a rural-based guerrilla group, the NPA has an active urban infrastructure to support its terrorist activities and uses city-based assassination squads," the report said.
* US terror list: NPA in, MILF still out (The Philippine Star, April 30)
* US lauds RP gains in fight vs terror (The Manila Times, April 29)