The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), currently embroiled in an operation to eradicate the Islamic State from the southern city of Marawi, have called for legislators to toughen the nation’s immigration laws so as to prevent foreign jihadists from entering the country and supporting local terrorist groups.
Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla told reporters Monday that the armed forces feel it necessary to “reinforce or strengthen our immigration procedures,” adding, “this is our first line of defense.”
The need to keep potentially dangerous foreigners out of the country has become more urgent as two terrorist groups in the nation’s south – the Maute group and Abu Sayyaf, both of whom pledged loyalty to the Islamic State – continue to besiege Marawi, the country’s only official Islamic city.
Following a failed police raid in May, Maute group terrorists launched an operation to establish a “caliphate” in the majority-Catholic Philippines and continue to control parts of the city. Duterte placed the entire island of Mindanao, where Marawi is located, under a 60-day martial law order.
Shortly following the launch of the siege of Marawi, Padilla himself confirmed that among those the Philippine military killed were foreign terrorists, including citizens of Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Middle East.
“You can say that the ISIS is here already,” President Duterte said at the time.
In its report on Padilla’s call for more robust immigration security procedures Monday, the Philippine Star noted that the country has been struggling to maintain security procedures at airports in the face of a financial shortfall that had left a number of Bureau of Immigration workers without their overtime salaries. “Immigration supervisors and agents from other airport units such as travel control and enforcement had to man the vacant counters and function as immigration officers,” the newspaper explained.
Adding to their response to the Marawi siege, the Philippine government announced a new initiative Monday with neighbors Malaysia and Indonesia meant to limit the spread of groups like Maute and Abu Sayyaf in the region. The countries have agreed to deploy navy units for joint patrols in local waters “to curb the influence of local Islamist terror groups,” according to CNN.
“The Trilateral Maritime Patrol Indomalphi is a concrete step taken by the three countries … in maintaining stability in the region in the face of non-traditional real threats such as piracy, kidnapping, terrorism and other transnational crimes in regional waters,” the countries said in a statement.
As part of a separate initiative – President Duterte’s signature policy to eradicate drug crime from the Philippines – the military have begun targeting the drug profits of groups like Maute.
On Monday, the AFP announced that it had seized eleven kilograms of methamphetamine (locally known as “shabu”) from terrorists in Marawi. The terrorists not only profit off of drugs like methamphetamine, the government contends, but use the drugs in battle. “Troops in the frontline say that they are facing drug-crazed individuals who are evidently high on illegal drugs,” one spokesman said.
Many of these individuals are child soldiers, taken from impoverished homes after Islamic terrorists promise their parents a proper Quranic education that they could never afford, according to one former child terrorist who spoke to the Philippine outlet Rappler.
In addition to Maute and Abu Sayyaf, the Philippine military released an analysis Monday claiming twenty Islamic State groups are active in the Philippines, despite the country boasting a tiny Muslim population.
Philippine officials claim that 90 percent of Marawi is liberated, confirming the deaths of 206 terrorists and only 26 civilians. The city is currently largely deserted, with thousands of residents fleeing in the immediate aftermath of the Maute invasion.