This Lead Inspector General (Lead IG) report to the United States Congress is the 11th quarterly report on Operation Pacific Eagle–Philippines (OPE-P), the overseas contingency operation to support the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) fight against ISIS–East Asia (ISIS-EA) and other terrorist organizations. This report summarizes significant events related to this operation and describes ongoing and planned Lead IG and partner agency oversight work, and covers the period from April 1 through June 30, 2020.
This quarter, ISIS-EA, the Philippine faction of the terrorist group, sought to capitalize on the Philippine government’s deployment of military assets to assist with the response to the coronavirus disease–2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. While ISIS-EA carried out its most deadly attack in 15 months, the levels of violence in the Philippines were similar to previous quarters.
With U.S.-provided support, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) continues to conduct counterterrorism operations that keep ISIS-EA from spreading. In June, Philippine security officials disrupted an ISIS-EA cell near Manila, outside the terrorist organization’s traditional area of operations. While that raised questions about whether ISIS-EA is expanding its reach, United States Indo-Pacific Command said that ISIS-EA strategy and capabilities had not changed.
This quarter, the Philippine government instituted strict quarantine measures in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. These restrictions on commerce and travel fueled social tensions, and the Defense Intelligence Agency stated it was possible that ISIS-EA was attempting to take advantage of the resulting popular unrest and the AFP’s redirection of resources from counterterrorism to quarantine enforcement.
The Philippine government suspended its termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philippines and the United States, which was set to enter into effect in August. The termination of the agreement would alter, and possibly end, some of the support the Department of Defense (DoD) provides to the Philippines. The suspension, announced on June 2, is valid for 180 days, at which point the Philippine government can either extend the suspension or resume the termination process. The U.S. Embassy in Manila reported that the main reasons for this suspension were the COVID-19 pandemic, worsening economic trends, and recent aggressive behavior by the People’s Republic of Chinese.
This quarter, the Lead IG agencies completed six reports related to OPE-P, including an audit of DoD mobile medical team training and an audit of Department of State (DoS) anti-terrorism programs. Ten oversight projects related to the Philippines were ongoing, and one was planned, as of June 30, 2020.
Section 8L of the Inspector General Act of 1978 provides a mandate for the three Lead IG agencies—the DoD, DoS, and U.S. Agency for International Development Offices of Inspector General—to work together to develop and carry out joint, comprehensive, and strategic oversight. Each Inspector General retains statutory independence, but together they apply their extensive regional experience and in-depth institutional knowledge to conduct whole-of-government oversight of this overseas contingency operation.