No credible terrorist threat in the country: Aquino
President Benigno S. Aquino III delivers his speech during the 2016 East-West Center (EWC) / East-West Center Association (EWCA) International Conference at the Centennial Hall of the Manila Hotel in One Rizal Park, Manila City on Friday (January 15). (MNS photo)
MANILA (Mabuhay) – No credible threat has been monitored in the country despite the recent terror attacks in Jakarta, Indonesia, President Aquino assured the public on Friday.
The President, however, said the government would remain vigilant and continue to boost intelligence sharing with other regional allies to thwart any security threat as well as prevent radicalization of persons who become threats to peace and order.
Target-hardening efforts across the country will also be sustained to keep the country safe from lawless elements, according to the President.
“The last report I read says there is no credible threat,” the President said in a press conference during a visit in the province of Bulacan.
“Is there a general threat? Yes. We are not immune to extremism but all our agencies, law enforcement and intelligence, are focused on this problem and trying to thwart potential problems,” added Aquino who met with top security officials last Thursday shortly after the attacks in Indonesia.
Aquino admitted that authorities have monitored two Filipinos, one living in Saudi Arabia and the other in Lebanon, who attempted to join a group of Islamic militants. These two half-Filipinos, however, never lived in the country, he said.
“Now, having said that, we have a big population in Middle East, 1 to 2 million (Filipinos). Many people have been radicalized through the internet. Of course we will be prudent and coordinate with other intelligence agencies and our intelligence agents themselves will monitor communities if there is any threat or if they are being influenced by ISIS,” Aquino said.
Aquino also downplayed the threat from the Abu Sayyaf Group, which he claimed was been changing alliances from al Qaeda, Jemaah Islamiyah to ISIS.
“Now that ISIS is popular, they are supposedly connected with this group. Probably tomorrow, they will claim allegiance to another group,” Aquino said.
The President said the government has long bolstered the “hardening of targets” and other security measures in vital public installations.
Aquino also asked the public to cooperate with the government and remain vigilant against security threats. He said he hopes the public will report any suspicious person or activity in their communities so authorities can take the appropriate action.
Following Thursday’s attacks in Jakarta, the Philippines must confront the threat of Islamic State to prevent similar attacks on Manila or other cities, security experts have warned.
“Philippine military officials have always flatly denied that Islamic State has any foothold in the country, but they should now admit that the group has a small but dangerous presence in the Muslim south,” said Zachary Abuza of the US National War College, as revealed by militant videos posted online.
A Jakarta-style attack would be “very much within the capabilities of militants in the southern Philippines,” he said. In 2014, the Philippine government signed a landmark peace deal with Islamic rebels on the southern island of Mindanao, but the agreement has become bogged down in Congress where some lawmakers are wary of ceding too much power to former rebels.
The peace process should now be given top priority, Abuza said, to avoid playing into the hands of Islamic State by giving disaffected young Muslims a reason to flirt with the Middle East group’s extremist ideology
The assault on a Starbucks cafe and a police post in the Indonesian capital, while unsophisticated, was the first in Southeast Asia to be directed or inspired by IS, and follows months of warnings by security officials that its members posed a threat to the region.
“Paris in November, Istanbul this week and Jakarta today,” Hugo Brennan, Asia analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, said on Thursday.
DUTERTE CONDEMNS ATTACKS
Presidential aspirant Mayor Rodrigo Duterte condemned the Jakarta terror attacks in the strongest terms possible.
“Having been through the same experiences in the past, we have seen how cities like Davao have risen from such violence, and are one with Indonesians in seeking justice and building peace,” the mayor explained.
“The citizens of Davao and the Philippines extend our sympathies for the grieving families of the victims of this horrendous attack. We call for justice for the fallen, and the warmth of peace for those left behind,” he emphasized.
Duterte added that the City of Davao will work hand in hand with the national government to prevent such attacks from happening in the country.
“Let us continue investing in the capabilities needed to build peaceful and prosperous common future for our children.”
He also assured the Indonesians that the Filipinos “are united with you as Southeast Asians with a common history and ethnicity, desiring a peaceful region.” (MNS)