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July 14, 2004
Philippine Islamist Threat Expected to Surge, While US Support Cools, Following Compromise With Iraqi Terror Group
Analysis. GIS Staff Washington, with input from GIS Station Manila. Security sources in Manila and Washington, DC, on July 13, 2004, forecast a significant increase in domestic Philippine Islamist insurgency following the apparent political capitulation of the Philippine Government to terrorist demands for the withdrawal of the 51 Philippine military personnel in Iraq. As well, sources in both capitals forecast a cooling in the political and military aid which the US Bush Administration had been giving to the Philippine Arroyo Administration if, indeed, the Philippine Government had capitulated to the terrorist demands.
Philippines Deputy Foreign Minister Rafael Seguis told al-Jazeera television on July 13, 2004, that the Philippine troops would leave Iraq "swiftly, in the time it takes to carry out the necessary preparation for their return to the Philippines", following threats by the “Islamic Army, Khaled bin al-Waleed Corps” to kill its Philippine national hostage, truck driver Angelo de la Cruz, 46, unless the 51 troops left Iraq by July 20, 2004. The troops were scheduled to rotate out of Iraq under their normal schedule in August 2004. Mr de la Cruz was kidnapped on July 7. 2004.
The Philippine Government had earlier said that it would not abide by the terrorists’ demands.
The linkage between Philippine Islamist groups and those in Iraq is now significant, particularly since the takeover of Ba’athist insurgency forces and resources by al-Qaida leader in Iraq Abu-Musab Al-Zarqawi on June 18, 2004.
See Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily, June 21, 2004: Iraqi Ba’athist Forces Formally Submit to Islamist Control.
The Philippine Government response to the Iraqi group was an unequivocal capitulation. Seguis said: “In the name of the Filipino people and the name of humanity and the family of de la Cruz and his eight children, the Government of the Philippines is pleading for his release. In response to your request, the Philippines will withdraw its humanitarian force as soon as possible. ... I hope the statement that I read will touch the heart of this group.” The symbolic nature of the statement angered US and Filipino security officials, who saw it as opening the door to Islamist pressures on the Philippine Government in the counter-insurgency war at home as well as encouraging the hostage-taking process in Iraq itself.
Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s Government, meanwhile, is still in a state of flux, and Manila sources said that the proposed reshuffle of senior Government officials would probably not be completed within six months.The President reportedly wants Transportation & Communications Secretary Leandro Mendoza, a former chief of the Philippine National Police, to transfer to the Department of National Defense, but former Pres. Fidel Ramos reportedly blocked Mendoza’s appointment at the Dept. of National Defense in order to retain his own choice, the incumbent Secretary Eduardo Ermita.
The disarray in national policy circles was believed to have contributed to the decision to give in to the Iraqi terrorist demands. However, the recent surge in US aid to the Philippines was likely to be reduced following the affair. In June 2003, when Pres. Arroyo visited Washington, she noted that US military aid to the Philippines had grown to more than $100-million from $1.9-million three years earlier. A variety of new weapons programs for the Philippine forces were begun, including, for example, the supply of 20 Bell UH-1H military helicopters, an additional Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules, a naval patrol boat, and 30,000 M-16 rifles plus ammunition. As many as 3,000 US troops have, since January 2002, undertaken advisory functions for Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) personnel.
One US source noted that only the benefits to the US of the proposed Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) would cause Washington to mute its criticism of the Arroyo Government over its capitulation to the Iraqi terrorist demands.