Terrorism in the Philippines
But only in Mindanao
Besides all of the other issues about traveling to the Philippines, one not thought of by many foreigners is that terrorism is there, alive and well, in various degrees, on Mindanao. The southern most island of the Philippines. Just to be clear, terrorism can and does happen anywhere and while all of the Philippine islands are terrorist free for foreigners, Mindanao is not. This island has a long history of discontented Muslims under Islam seeking autonomy from the Philippine government.
There are two such groups comprising of not more than 12,000 more radical men. These are not the extremists like those of al-Qaeda or IS, and they are lightly armed. However, the roads have had IED's from time to time, especially, in the Muslim autonomous regions. In central Mindanao, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) remain active in the Cotabato City area, and in the Maguindanao area, North Cotabato, and Sultan Kudarat provinces, where the government maintains a state of emergency and a greater police presence. In western Mindanao, terrorist, insurgent, and criminal gangs regularly conduct kidnappings for ransom, including the kidnapping of a foreigner in Dipolog City in early October 2015. More recently in November, a bomb went off in Cotabato, killing several and wounding over 20. There have been a few kidnappings in and around Davao by members of a more radical band.
To help the Filipino anti-terrorism effort, there are about 400 US special forces in the Zamboanga area training Filipino Task Forces to combat and destroy the groups based in the area. In central Mindanao, there is a small group with ties to al-Qaeda, the Abu Sayyaf group who freed two German nationals Viktor Stefan Okonek and Henrite Dielen after special forces captured them before a planned beheading had occurred. This group pledged its allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), it had demanded the payment of P200 million for the two Germans. The group was also responsible to two failed attempts to explode bombs inside the International airport in Manila. It should be noted that the two Germans were vacationing in Palawan, an island far from Mindanao and not thought as dangerous. It is a tourist haven. This group has about 400 fighters and no central leader. But the group remains resilient and violent, engaging in ransom kidnappings and extortion. The Philippine government designated it as a terrorist group with ties to IS and al-Qaeda in September 2015.
In Dec. 2014, terrorists struck a public bus fully loaded with students and others from was in transit from Central Mindanao University when a bomb exploded killing 11 and wounding 43 others. The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters claimed responsibility for it. This Muslim extremist group opposed to peace talks between the government and the main Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The MILF and the Philippine government did reach an accord in 2015, however. That is a good thing because it has 11,000 members. Thus, two main terrorist groups, Abu-Sayeff and BIFF remain active on Mindanao. Malls have also been the target of these groups.
The Philippine government feels like they are sitting on a time bomb of sorts. The peace with MILF may not last over time because the other two groups really want all of Mindanao to be a Muslim Islamic nation and until the peace occurred, the MILF goals were just more modest- they wanted an autonomous region where they control most things.
In a recent study where it showed that Mindanao is ripe for terrorism if IS wants to exploit it. The local special forces are not prepared, which is why US special forces are based there in small number. The problem for the Philippines is that tourism would be ravaged because all foreigners are targets and the reluctance to ask for more American help, which they do need.
As a tourist, if you are going to Mindanao, to minimize danger, always be locals when in public and not alone. Stay for the shortest period of time possible especially if you are going to the danger areas. Try to avoid events where there are large groups of people.