FAST FACTS: Terrorism in the Philippines

While not so known to many, the Philippines is rising as the eastern province of the Islamic State (ISIS).

By the tailend of the first month of 2019, an Indonesian couple working with extremist group Abu Sayyaf carried out a devastating suicide bombing in a Jolo cathedral that killed at least 23. Months later, authorities named the first Filipino suicide bomber in a twin-blast incident in Sulu.

Even the coronavirus pandemic could not stop extremists from carrying out jihadist missions, as yet another suicide attack happened in Jolo in August 2020.

These are only some of the recent bombings in a string of attacks in the Philippines over the years.

Despite local and international efforts to address the threat, terrorism persists – and the Philippines remains to be very much a part of the global terror network.

Here are some facts about the growth of terrorism here.

Attacks in recent history

Below is a list of some of the biggest terror attacks that have occurred in the country before the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte:

Sources: GMA News, PhilStar (1, 2, 3), Human Rights Watch (1, 2), Philippine SenateAl Jazeera

Extremist groups, mainly the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) have claimed responsibility for these attacks.

Mindanao suffered – and continues to suffer – the most from terror.

From 2000 to 2012, the region witnessed 25 bombing and grenade attacks. Soccsksargen, the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (now replaced by the larger Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao or BARMM), and Zamboanga had the deadliest bombing attacks during this period. (READ: Mindanao bombs: over 300 killed in 12 yrs)

Even President Rodrigo Duterte's hometown has not been spared, as shown by the Davao night market bombing in 2016. Fourteen were killed and 60 were injured. 

In 2018, a foreigner blew himself up in Lamitan City, Basilan, killing at least 10.

On January 27, 2019, the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Jolo was bombed by an Indonesian couple. The blast killed at least 23 people and left more than 100 injured. 

On June 28, the police and military confirmed the “first suicide bombing by a Filipino” in Sulu. The bomber's name was Norman Lasuca.

At the height of the coronavirus pandemic in August 2020, back-to-back explosions rocked downtown Jolo, killing at least 14 people and injuring 75 others.

The attacker was one of two Filipino women allegedly planning a suicide bombing in late June, whom soldiers tried to capture in an intelligence mission. The 4 soldiers were killed by cops – an incident the Senate is currently investigating as of posting. (READ: Women of the Eastern Caliphate: Hiding in plain sight)

Marawi siege impact

It is the May 2017 Marawi siege however that has had long-term consequences, so far. The instability that followed prompted Duterte to implement martial law in Mindanao.

The battle of Marawi is the Philippine military’s longest and bloodiest in recent history, running for 5 months. The Maute Group even trained children to fight.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 353,921 families were displaced at the height of the siege.

Many of the 2,261 deaths in the BARMM in 2017 were due to the siege. (READ: Martial law led to 2018 drop in violence in Muslim Mindanao – study)

With a slow rise from ground zero, Marawi City is still on the road to recovery more than two years after the siege.  By February 2019, financial aid for the city’s rehabilitation reached nearly P42 billion, according to BusinessWorld.

Numbers from the UNHCR as of August 2020 show that more than 120,000 individuals are still displaced due to the Marawi conflict.

Laws and prevention

The Human Security Actsigned in 2007, outlined the state’s responsibility in protecting the country from acts of terrorism. 

In July 2020, Duterte signed into law the controversial Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, which repealed the Human Security Act. The law puts vague definitions of what constitutes terrorism, prompting rights groups to warn it could be used to label the government’s critics as terrorists.

Several groups have gone to the Supreme Court to challenge the constitutionality of the 2020 Anti-Terrorism Law. – with reports from Lucia Pangan/

Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a researcher-writer at Rappler. Possessing the heart and soul of a feminist, she is working on specializing in women's issues in Newsbreak, Rappler's investigative arm.