Asia

Philippines designates suspected Abu Sayyaf militants, communists as terrorists

The Philippine government has officially branded five suspected Muslim militants and six suspected members of the outlawed communist party as “terrorists,” saying the move will allow authorities to freeze financial assets that could be used for funding attacks.

Among official resolutions made public on Wednesday and Thursday, the government’s Anti-Terrorism Council said it had added the names of five Abu Sayyaf Group militants to its list of designated terrorists.

All five are ASG sub-leaders with links to Daulah Islamiyah, the name for the Philippine branch of the Islamic State extremist group, officials alleged.

Both of these militant groups are concentrated in the southern Philippines, where their fighters have been blamed for terrorist acts. These have included suicide bombings, beheadings of hostages, and a five-month siege of the city of Marawi in 2017.

The council also designated six suspected members of the Communist Party of the Philippines as terrorists, including Luis Jalandoni, a former Catholic priest-turned-rebel leader who led peace negotiations with the central government before they were scrapped in 2017.

The CPP’s military wing, the New People’s Army, has been fighting the Philippine government in various regions of the country since 1969. The conflict is Asia’s longest-running active insurgency.

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The Abu Sayyaf and CPP suspects, who were named in the resolutions “for committing, conspiring, planning, preparing for the commission of terrorism and recruitment to and membership in, and providing material support to terrorist organizations or groups organized for the purpose of engaging in terrorism,” the council said.

The five ASG suspects were identified as Basaron Arok/Basarun Aruk; Ellam Sajirin/Ellam Nasirin/Ellam Nasarin/Illam Nasirin; Madjid Said/Majid Said; Mura Asgali Kayawan; and Tawakkal Bayali.

Apart from Jalandoni, who is known to the Philippine public, the five other CPP members were identified as Simon Naugsan, Afrecia Rosete, Maria Luisa Purcray, Maria Gigi Ascaño-Tenebroso and Walter Alipio de Asis Cerbito.

The Anti-Money Laundering Council, according to the council, has also issued a freeze order against their assets as a consequence of their designation.

“Without doubt, the designation, in coordination with the AMLC [Anti-Money Laundering Council], serves as an effective tool to deny terrorists from obtaining financial and material support for their terrorist activities. It is also part of the legal means as an important component of the country’s comprehensive approach in counterterrorism,” the anti-terrorism body said.

The government had already branded both Abu Sayyaf and the communist party and its various wings as terrorist organizations.

Commenting on the council’s action against the Abu Sayyaf suspects, Lt. Gen. Alfredo Rosario Jr., head of the Philippine military’s Western Mindanao Command, said a lack of operational funds had kept the group from staging new abductions.

The last kidnapping perpetrated by ASG was in January 2020, when five Indonesian crew members of a fishing boat were seized in the waters off Lahad Datu in Sabah, Malaysia, and taken as captives to the Sulu Islands, a chain in the far southern Philippines.

The victims were rescued one after the other more than a year later in Tawi-Tawi, the country’s southernmost island.

Rosario said those who were designated had been tagged as being involved in cross-border kidnapping incidents and other terror activities.

“It is a welcome development because it will strengthen the legitimacy of our military operations against the ASG not only in Sulu but also in Basilan, Tawi-Tawi, Zamboanga Peninsula and in other parts of the country,” Rosario told reporters here, in reaction to the ATF move.

Jeoffrey Maitem and Mark Navales contributed to this report from Davao City and Cotabato City, Philippines.

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