MANILA: Philippines officials on Monday voiced growing alarm over what they described as the “changing face of terrorism” in the country following the suicide attack on an army command post on the island of Sulu.
Eight people, including three soldiers and two suspected bombers, were killed in twin explosions near the military counterterrorism base on June 28.
Speaking on Monday, Delfin Lorenzana, Philippines national defense secretary, described the attack as a worrying development that highlighted the rising terror threat in the country.
The attack on the army counter-terrorism facility is the third suicide strike since July 31 last year when a Moroccan suspect struck on Basilan island. Then, on Jan. 27, a suicide attack by an Indonesian couple devastated the Mount Carmel Cathedral on Jolo island, also in Sulu, killing 20 people.
“It’s becoming (a more frequent) occurrence and we are very concerned about this,” Lorenzana said on the sidelines of the Disaster Emergency Logistics Systems for ASEAN at Camp Aguinaldo.
“This has raised the level of extremism here and I think we have a lot of work to do, to talk to the leaders on the ground, the traditional leaders, the sultans, the datus, and also officials from BARMM (Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao).
“I think they do not want that happening in their area. They want peace so that development will take place,” he said.
The attacks have occurred despite the implementation of martial law in Mindanao since 2017. However, Lorenza said that martial law is not the answer to every security threat.
“Martial law is not the solution to all these threats because an individual or two individuals can go anywhere — we have not controlled the movement of people in Mindanao. You can basically go anywhere you want without any checkpoints sometimes,” he said.
Daesh claimed responsibility for the latest attack, but Lorenzana said that the military and police are waiting for DNA test results before drawing any conclusions.
Meanwhile, a lawmaker urged the coming 18th Congress to further tighten security legislation following Friday’s bomb attack.
Rep. Jericho Nograles said the incident “could be a sign that suicide bombing is becoming the weapon of choice for Islamic extremists in the country.”
He urged the Congress to amend the 2007 Human Security Act, saying that without changes to the law “our armed forces and police cannot fully protect us.”
“These brazen attacks must be stopped, Nograles said. “The military and police can only do so much to protect us from this new method of terror.
“We need the cooperation of our people so that we can bring the perpetrators to justice.”
He described Sulu as “the playground of foreign terrorists who come to our country either through the back door or through the airports disguised as religious or tourist visits.”
“I think the Anti-Terrorism Council should order a prompt and full review on existing protocols defending our nation against terrorists,” Nograles said.
“We see our domestic terrorists being influenced by a global terror movement inspired by groups such as Daesh, which use the most extreme violence to advance their causes. We need protection from these influencers as well.”