By: Katerina Zejdlova, Consultant at IB Consultancy
Security situation overview
In the recent years the security situation in the Philippines has progressively been worsening, as the country placed 10thin the latest (2018) , ranking 1stin the Asia-Pacific region. With three main active terrorist groups – the communist New People’s Army (NPA) and the ISIL-aligned Islamist Abu Sayyaf and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) – the country recently marked the highest number of deaths from terrorism in decades, totaling 326 fatalities in 2017.
The primary security concern with regards to terrorism are IEDs. According to the , between 2011 and 2016 the Philippines recorded 126 IED incidents. The Abu Sayyaf group has been particularly active recently, especially in the Western Mindanao region, prompting the police and the army to step up their intelligence and security operations. Notably, a major incident took place in Marawi City in 2017 where the Islamist groups Abu Sayyaf and MILF enacted a five-month siege locked in a stand-off with the law enforcement. Furthermore, though the New People’s Army (NPA) has also been accused of utilizing primitive biological warfare, IEDs remain the primary concern.
Even though the country has so far not experienced any chemical or biological warfare incidents, it nevertheless began to significantly build up its CBRN capacity in the recent years. The country has received substantial foreign aid in the security area, with the US having provided extensive training and assistance and the EU having funded the establishment of the CBRN Centre of Excellence’s regional secretariat in the Philippines in 2013 aimed at enhancing CBRN capabilities in South-East Asia.
CBRN & C-IED stakeholders
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)
Due to the rising terrorist threat, notably the Marawi incident, the military forces have progressively gained an even more prominent role in counter-terrorism than they held previously, traditionally already having taken the lead in counter-terrorism efforts. The capabilities of the AFP have further been enhanced due to the training and funding received from the US over the past two decades. As such, it comes as no surprise the country’s military expenditure has been steadily rising in recent decades. Since 2012 the AFP has been undergoing a 15-year modernization program, which is likely to include upgrading its CBRN equipment as well.
Although the main focus of the AFP is primarily on C-IED, recently its attention has also shifted towards CBRN. The Army has the largest capabilities in this area, with the Army Support Command’s EOD Battalionnesting three EOD companies in the geographical areas of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. The Battalion further comprises the CBRN Platoon, newly founded in 2015. Its main mission is to provide limited detection, identification and decontamination of CBRN hazards in support of the AFP and other civil authorities. The Platoon currently has around 20 personnel. Having participated in trainings all over the world, it also earned the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG) accreditation.
The AFP gradually plans to replicate the CBRN Platoon in the Navy as well as the Air Force. However, for now their focus remains largely on EOD operations. The Navy Special Operations Group (NAVSOG) – the smallest elite unit of the Navy – comprises the Explosive & EOD Unit. Within the Air Force, the 710th Special Operations Wing (SPOW) takes care of EOD operations and also comprises a K-9 unitfocusing on explosive detection.
Philippine National Police (PNP)
Even though the Philippine law enforcement so far lacks the same capacity to respond effectively to security threats as the AFP has, it nevertheless still plays a key role when it comes to CBRNe & C-IED efforts.
The PNP has several Operational Support Units that contribute significantly to the law enforcement’s CBRN & C-IED efforts. The PNP boasts the Crime Laboratory which comprises the CBRNe Forensic Teamwhose main responsibility is reconnaissance, collection, processing and forensic analysis of CBRNe specimen. Moreover, in 2016 the EOD-K9 Group was established with its primary responsibility being the management, deployment, utilization and development of the EOD and canine units for the PNP. It is mandated to carry out safe bomb disposal and neutralization of chemical, nuclear and IED hazards as well as post-blast investigations. It further supervises the implementation of EOD/CBRN training directives and ensures that training and operational needs in these fields are met.
Secondly, the PNP’s Directorate for Intelligence acts as a focal point of the PNP for the Anti-Terrorism Council, the National CBRN Team and other local and foreign agencies with regards to CBRN matters. The Directorate comprises The Philippine Bomb Data Center (PBDC) which serves as a coordinating body with the aim to provide technical assistance, strategic information, operational support and the enhancement of training on all unlawful use of explosives. Due to the high-intensity IED threat level in the Philippines the majority of PBDC’s work focuses specifically on IEDs. The PBDC further maintains a database of investigation reports and data on all bomb incidents, thus fundamentally contributing to continuous improvement in C-IED methodologies. Moreover, the PBDC conducts training and competency-building activities and provides in-field technical and intelligence support to investigation units, including e.g. the EOD/K9 Group.
Lastly, the PNP also focuses on the aspect of CBRN medical countermeasures. The Health Service (HS) department, concretely the Emergency Management Team is the designated unit to tackle CBRNe medical emergencies. The HS is responsible for providing monitoring, analysis and recommendations regarding the handling of CBRN agents, establishing information-sharing networks with other institutions and coming up with training plans and guidelines for medical teams in charge of CBRN response.
The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG)
Being in charge of maritime security of the country under the jurisdiction of the Ministry for Transportation, the PCG boasts several division relevant to CBRN. The Special Operations Force (CG SOF) deals with domestic counterterrorism, under which the CG Anti-Terrorist Unit operates. Moreover, the Maritime Security Command comprises the newly established CG K-9 Force.
Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP)
The BFP, an agency nested under the Department of the Interior and Local Government, is the last major stakeholder when it comes to CBRN response in the Philippines. Its primary responsibility is the provision of assistance and support to regular firefighters in disaster and emergency response, including HazMat/CBRN incidents. Nationwide it comprises around 400 personnel distributed across different regional units. Its Special Rescue Unit (SRU) focuses specifically on CBRNe incident response and has received varied training all around the world. It comprises three units located in Makati, Cebu and Davao.
Lastly, the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) is the national aviation agency of the Philippines, responsible among other matters for ensuring safety in civil aviation. In light of the recent bombings of civilian targets in the Philippines, in January 2019 the CAAP initiated Airport Security Committee (ASC) meetings in its 12 area centers nationwide, focused on revisiting and updating airports’ contingency plans and conducting bomb incident management exercises. The ASC meetings also discussed the procedures of the K9 Explosive Detection Units (EDD) and bomb squad deployment as well as the increased airport security measures including the utilization of Explosive Trace Detection Systems (ETDS).
Foreign assistance, especially on the part of the United States, has been key for the development of CBRN capabilities in the Philippines. The country is claimed to be the largest recipient of US military aid in East and South-East Asia, with the main beneficiary having been the AFP. In the past years the US delivered millions of dollars-worth of military equipment and small arms to the country as well as provided training.
The Philippines participates in the US Foreign Military Sales (FMS) Program whilst also being the beneficiary of the US Foreign Military Funding program. The United States has provided financial aid in the areas of foreign military financing, international military education and training as well as the non-proliferation of WMDs, anti-terrorism (governmental capabilities) and demining. Donations of CBRN and EOD equipment to the PNP and AFP have also been made by various US governmental institutions and departments. Furthermore, most of the BFP’s CBRN equipment has been donated by the Canadian Embassy in Manila.
Moreover, for the past few years Philippine authorities have also been receiving extensive aid and training in the CBRNe area from the US, concretely the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA). The most recent exercise in July 2019 designed by DTRA for the BFP simulated a CBRN incident within the metropolitan area of Manila, training the coordinated response of more than 20 agencies and the identification of chemical agents utilizing decontamination equipment provided by DTRA. This exercise followed the CBRN training of the BFP Special Rescue Unit (comprising the Makati, Cebu and Davao units) organized in February 2019 in Colorado, US, focused on enhancing their medical and HazMat response skills. Furthermore, this month the US and the PNP signed a joint agreement to establish a new Regional Counterterrorism Training Center in the Philippines to train law enforcement from the Philippines and regional partner nations, thus further aiming at strengthening security cooperation in the CBRNe area between the two countries as well as regionally.
The CBRNe Society has also organized varied CBRN and C-IED workshops and trainings for the military and law enforcement in the Philippines. On 25-26 March 2019 the NCT PRO Philippines 2019 training took place at the Philippines National Police Training Service Camp Crame in Quezon City. This followed up on a successful NCT nXt Philippines 2017 event held between 16-17 November 2017.