Philippines works with U.S. to counter terror threats

Philippines works with U.S. to counter terror threats

Joseph Hammond

The threat of domestic terrorism in the Philippines surfaced again in late January 2021 when a bombing near a bus station in the northern municipality of Tulunan killed two people and injured six. It was a blast that rekindled memories of the five-month siege of the southern city of Marawi by violent extremists in 2017. To counter these ongoing threats, the Philippine military continues to work with defense partners to upgrade its border security and counterterrorism efforts.

The most recent enhancement came when the United States donated U.S. $29 million worth of defense gear, including sniper rifles and anti-improvised explosive device (IED) equipment in December 2020.

The modernization of the Philippine Armed Forces enables Manila to respond more effectively to traditional and nontraditional security threats, Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana announced at the time of the arms transfer.

“This was mostly specialized items, small arms and PPE [personal protective equipment], which is part of the overall counterterrorism capability enablement,” defense analyst Armando Heredia told FORUM.

The 2017 battle of Marawi was the longest sustained urban battle in Southeast Asia since the Tet Offensive in Vietnam in 1968, Heredia explained. The battle claimed over 1,000 lives, including 100 civilians. An additional 1.1 million people were displaced by the siege. (Pictured: Philippine Soldiers in a military truck pass destroyed buildings in Marawi.)

“The Armed Forces of the Philippines is hoping to be prepared for another Marawi-like scenario of urban warfare if it develops,” said Joshua Espena, an analyst based in Quezon City, Philippines. “Indeed, the donation of anti-IEDs and sniper equipment is certainly needed to ensure the border is well-protected against new threats like smuggling and encroachment from China as well as the continued threat of communist insurgents and radical extremists.”

The U.S. has mounted a sustained campaign to help the Philippines counter terror threats. It donated U.S. $18 million worth of precision-guided munitions to the Philippines in November 2020. The Philippines is also looking to acquire five Lockheed Martin C-130J aircraft to improve its transport capabilities.

The modernization effort comes in response to domestic terrorism concerns as well as encroachments on Philippine territory by the People’s Republic of China.

“The Philippines is by far the top military assistance recipient of the U.S. in the Indo-Pacific,” said Don McLain Gill, an international affairs researcher based in the Philippines. “This comes at a time when China is increasing its assertiveness in Southeast Asia, thus adding to ongoing traditional and nontraditional border and internal threats.”

Joseph Hammond is a FORUM contributor who reports from the Indo-Pacific region.