Sep 212014
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President Benigno S. Aquino III AP

President Benigno S. Aquino III AP

BERLIN—President Benigno Aquino III has downplayed the threat posed by the extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the Philippines, saying the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has been helping prevent Filipino Muslims from getting drawn to the terrorist group.

The President expressed doubts over claims that some of them have become affiliated with ISIS, which has been on a rampage in Iraq.

“With regard to claims of being part of ISIS, we think these are more [of] claims, and our intelligence reports tell us that they are not based on actual contact or coordination with the same,” he said in a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“It is an attempt to enhance their own status, especially for those that are increasingly being marginalized.”

In a separate forum, he indicated that these groups, which he did not identify, were just riding on the prominence of the ISIS threat.

“The same groups that were claiming linkage to Al-Qaeda according to our intelligence reports are the same people who are claiming that they have pledged allegiance to the caliph of the ISIS,” he told his audience here.

“And we presumed not to belittle them but if there is a new group that is ascendant, they will be probably the next franchisee in our country.”

Aquino acknowledge that the MILF “probably had some links to Al Qaeda before.” But with the peace agreement signed between the government and the MILF, he said the group “is actually our partners in obtaining peace for the Bangsamoro peoples.”

“As partners and eventually as people who will be responsible for the peace and order in that portion of the country, even now, they have been helping us address the issues of well, a lot of times bandits, and sometimes potential terrorists,” he said.

“They have publicly stated that they are not in support of what ISIS is doing and they will prevent the ISIS intrusion into Philippine affairs.

The President said the problem of extremism in Mindanao was triggered more by the “lack of economic opportunities rather than based on ideologies or even religious extremism.”

“So, for instance, I am not aware of any instance where we had suicide bombers in the Philippines,” he said.

“That doesn’t mean that we will not be subjected to the same. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have the potential of being infiltrated by terrorists, but it is now within our culture to do so.”

Aquino said “addressing the root causes of the problem” in Mindanao “will enhance our ability to insulate or at least protect our borders from influences that are nihilistic.”

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