Not so good news about the Philippines compared to its Southeast Asian neighbors.
While the Philippines has made progress in containing the threat from armed groups such as the Abu Sayyaf, Moro Islamic Liberation Front and New Peoples’ Army, it lagged behind other countries in the region, FTI-International Risk’s Chairman Steve Vickers said in a report released today.
The U.S. State Department renewed its travel warning for the Philippines on Nov. 2, citing an October bus bombing that killed 10 people and warning attacks could extend “to include Manila.” Philippines ranks 130 out of 149 countries in the 2010 Global Peace Index compiled by the Sydney-based Institute of Economics & Peace. Thailand ranked 124, and Pakistan 145.
“Pakistan, southern Thailand and southern Philippines are the places where, unless you have a very compelling reason, you should not be going without professional support,” Vickers, who formerly commanded the Hong Kong Police Criminal Intelligence Bureau, said in a phone interview today.
Indonesia’s counter-terrorism program was successful in 2010, he said. Little progress had been made in tackling an insurgency in southern Thailand because the government there was distracted by violent protests in Bangkok, the FTI report said.
The trouble in the Philippines is largely isolated in the south of the country, and while the government has made progress in suppressing the Abu Sayyaf, “in quiet times, you see them going back to what they do best, which is small-scale kidnapping and ransom,” Vickers said. “Some of it is purely criminal and has no link to terror groups,” he said.
Edwin Lacierda, a spokesman for Philippines President Benigno Aquino, said the report overstated the threat.
“It’s a matter of perception,” Lacierda said at a regular televised briefing. “The threat is not as grave as the think tank assesses it.”
The southern Philippine island of Mindanao is home to the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf and a stronghold for the military wing of the Communist Party, the New People’s Army, both branded terror organizations by the U.S.
Between 2005 and 2010, 1,536 people were killed in terror attacks in the Philippines, including those staged by the two groups, according to the U.S. National Counter-Terrorism website.
Two days ago, suspected Muslim militants killed five businessmen in the southern Philippine province of Basilan, Xinhua news service reported, citing an official.
Communist rebels have staged attacks on mining assets in the Philippines, derailing the government’s plan to attract overseas investors. At least two attacks on Xstrata Plc’s Tampakan copper project in Mindanao were staged in 2008.
The NPA has a policy of imposing taxes on state and private infrastructure projects within the areas of its operations, Satur Ocampo, a co-founder of the National Democratic Front, an alliance of organizations including the New People’s Army and the Communist Party of the Philippines, said in a 2009 interview. He declined to give an estimate of the tax collected.
A study three years earlier by Philippine Institute for Development Studies put the levy at between 5 percent and 10 percent.
Bombing cellular phone towers and other infrastructure is a way for rebels to assert their authority, Ocampo said.
“It’s one form for the revolutionary government to demonstrate its political and military authority, to deliver a message to the contractors,” Ocampo said. “Of course, the government claims this is plain banditry.”
President Benigno Aquino’s government said in December the government will ensure security in mining sites and that the NPA’s extortion threatens investment.
The armed conflict in Mindanao between the government and the Muslim rebels resulted in an economic loss of more than $10 billion between 1975 and 2002, according to the World Bank.
The International Risk report’s findings “might affect the new investors” who rely on risk consultancy firms, said Earl Parreno, an analyst at the Institute for Political and Economic Reforms in Manila.
Aquino, who started his six-year term in June, vowed to fight corruption and bolster investments as he seeks to expand the economy by at least 7 percent starting this year. His government plans to pitch to investors more than 700 billion pesos ($15.9 billion) of road, port and railway projects.