MANILA, Philippines – Air Force One has landed for the first trip of United States President Donald Trump to the Philippines, and so have the planes of prime ministers Malcolm Turnbull of Australia, Justin Trudeau of Canada, and Shinzo Abe of Japan.
The world leaders are attending the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit and Related Summits, being held in the wake of a fierce months-long battle in Marawi City between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and local armed groups linked to international terrorist network Islamic State (ISIS). (READ: The war in Marawi: 153 days and more)
Security threats from remaining ISIS-linked groups cannot be dismissed as military operations continue in the southern Philippines, but the military is confident of its preparations.
“We have not monitored any security threat but we cannot be too complacent. We should be on guard,” said Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana in a recent media interview.
The search for supposed new ISIS emir Amin Baco is ongoing amid clearing operations in Marawi City. Last week, the military conducted air strikes against ISIS-linked Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in ongoing clashes in nearby North Cotabato.
Up to 60,000 land, air, and sea forces from the police and the military are involved under Task Force Oplan ASEAN Leaders’ Summit (ALS).
Cops are aggressively monitoring suspected personalities in the capital, too. On Saturday, November 11, 3 men with supposed links to the Abu Sayyaf Group were arrested for questioning.
The military itself activated 5 joint task groups to assist police in performing security and emergency response operations.
“The timing [of the summit] cannot be better,” said AFP spokesperson Major General Restituto Padilla.
“The Marawi conflict allowed the Philippines to significantly address a growing terrorist group that has frequently disturbed the peace and undermined our security,” he added.
The country’s top terrorist leaders – Isnilon Hapilon of the Abu Sayyaf Group and the Maute brothers – were killed in the war, but the hunt for stragglers continues and other ISIS-linked groups remain active.
Intelligence agencies of allied countries are also on top of the situation.
“We are part of the community of nations against global terrorism. The alliance is primarily characterized by information sharing which is a big factor in dealing with this threat,” said Padilla.
“Among our allies, we benefit from training opportunities and sharing of best practices. PRRD’s (President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s) initiatives also brought us dividends in terms of firearm donations, among others,” he added.
Allies also helped the Philippine military fight the war in Marawi City. The US and Australia – both having visiting forces agreements with the Philippines – flew their P3 Orion surveillance planes to help locate the enemies.
Lone wolf attacks
Philippine security officials have expressed concern over “lone wolf” attacks that are harder to monitor.
“The threat of ‘lone wolf’ attacks is not unique to the Philippines, but a worldwide phenomenon. We are fortunate we have not had such an incident. God forbid we experience this. The proactive stance of our security forces is keeping us safe and holding at bay the evil hand of terrorism,” said Padilla.
The military gave an assurance that it is ready to secure world leaders in Manila.
“The AFP has long been planning and preparing for contingency measures to address any worst-case scenarios during the ASEAN meetings,” said AFP Public Affairs Office chief Colonel Edgard Arevalo.
“This is in line with our task of providing security coverage for the venues as well as the safety of the people and all our visitors.” – Rappler.com