The Philippines was the fifth worst place in the world for terror attacks last year, according to the US State Department.
In its Country Reports on Terrorism 2016 released this week, the State Department said that 55 per cent of the world’s 11,072 terrorist attacks happened in Iraq, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and the Philippines.
In response to the the finding, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the government was doing everything it could to fight terrorism. He also said the Duterte administration had adopted a “whole systems approach” to curb terrorism, including efforts to alleviate poverty.
“We recognise that poverty in Mindanao and the sense of hopelessness it brings spawns terrorism,” he said. “It is for this reason that while we are fighting terrorism, we are also fighting poverty.”
Mr Abella also told the news conference that the president had approved a comprehensive peace roadmap that “aims to provide peace and development by addressing the issue on the Bangsamoro”.
‘Bangsamoro’ refers to the proposed self-governing Muslim region that the president has long committed to support.
“As they say, we can sign a hundred peace agreements but if those on the ground do not immediately feel the dividends of peace, those agreements will not be sustainable,” Mr Abella said.
“In other words, what we are doing is really confronting it, engaging the situation with the whole systems approach.”
The State Department said the emergence of terror groups affiliated with Islamic State (IS), continuing kidnaps for ransom by Abu Sayyaf, bombings and frequent attacks on government forces “indicated that domestic and international terrorism remained a serious problem” in the Philippines.
The report comes as the battle to take back control of Marawi City from IS-linked militants enters its ninth week.
It also coincides with another report by Jakarta-based Institute of Policy Analysis of Conflict warning that the protracted nature of the conflict was likely to embolden islamists and lead to further terror attacks in the Philippines.
The US State Department report also pointed out that the president’s focus on eradicating illegal drugs had “increased workload and operational tempo for security forces”.
The report also said that the response to terrorist incidents was also hampered by the fact that multiple agencies had jurisdiction over counterterrorism efforts.
“Responsibilities between law enforcement and military units involved in counterterrorism missions are often not clear, information sharing is moderate, and command and control arrangements often depend on personal relationships between incident commanders,” the State Department said.
In the report, the State Department said the US was working closely with the Philippines to monitor and investigate groups involved in terrorism.
It also raised the concern that with the noose tightening on IS in the Middle East, there was a danger of more jihadists seeking a new stronghold in Mindanao.