Malacañang on Monday said the Philippines would accept any foreign assistance to combat terrorism.
“We ask help from anyone, from all countries of the world, because the threat of terrorism is not just in the Philippines, it’s a worldwide concern. So if countries want to give whatever assistance they could and they want to, it’s welcome,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque Jr. said during a Palace briefing.
The Palace official made the statements following concerns raised over reports that the United States has enhanced its counterterrorism cooperation with the Philippines through an anti-terrorism mission named “Operation Pacific Eagle Philippines.”
According to a report by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) posted over the weekend, the intensified US military mission was launched in September 2017 after the Philippine government requested for more assistance in defeating Islamic State-backed militants that laid siege to Marawi City.
In the same report, the WSJ said funds for Pacific Eagle Philippines would be used to enhance “military and aid efforts” to combat terrorism and “to prevent ISIS from getting a foothold in Southeast Asia.”
Leftist group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) questioned why the Philippine government kept the so-called mission secret from the Filipino people.
Bayan alleged that Operation Pacific Eagle Philippines aimed to maintain “active US military presence in the region” and undermine Duterte’s independent foreign policy.
But Roque said that a call for assistance for an anti-terrorism initiative need not be announced as terrorism was not just a subject of concern in international organizations such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), but was also a top priority as well of multilateral agencies such as the United Nations.
“The fact that I’m acknowledging that any country that can provide assistance in the fight of the entire planet against terrorism is a welcome development. And if assistance would be given, we would gladly accept this assistance,” he said.
The Palace spokesperson said receiving assistance to combat terror does not run counter with the Duterte administration’s independent foreign policy.
“An independent foreign policy recognizes that there are threats which are common to the entire humanity, and the threat of global terrorism is one of them,” Roque said.
Duterte declared martial law in the whole of Mindanao last May 23, 2017 after IS-inspired extremists laid siege to Marawi City.
The city was liberated last October after five months of heavy urban fighting that left more than a thousand, mostly militants, dead.
According to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), US troops were on the ground near Marawi City but were not involved in fighting the Maute terrorist group.
But despite the liberation of Marawi, Duterte has repeatedly warned about the continuing threat of violent extremism posed by Maute remnants and other IS-affiliated groups operating in Mindanao.
These groups have been monitored actively recruiting new members for future terror assaults.
The continuing terror threat compelled Duterte to seek Congress permission to extend the imposition of martial law in Mindanao until the end of 2018.
His request was approved last December 13. (PNA)