This Lead Inspector General (Lead IG) report to the United States Congress is the 12th and final 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 July 1 through September 30, 2020.
In 2019, the Secretary of Defense rescinded the overseas contingency operation designation for OPE-P. As a result, Lead IG reporting responsibilities for this operation sunset at the end of Fiscal Year 2020. However, the Department of Defense (DoD) will continue to support counterterrorism operations in the Philippines, and the DoD, Department of State (DoS), and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Offices of Inspector General (OIG) will continue to conduct oversight of U.S. Government operations under their individual statutory authorities.
Both the AFP and violent extremists were active in the Philippines this quarter. An August double suicide bombing in the city of Jolo killed 14 and wounded 75. Sporadic incidents of terrorist violence throughout the quarter primarily targeted Philippine security forces, including roadside bombs and ambushes on checkpoints. AFP operations targeted terrorist leaders, and a July incident likely resulted in the death of ISIS-EA’s acting leader. Several other ISIS-EA commanders were killed or captured in operations on Mindanao and in the Sulu archipelago.
This quarter, the Philippine government’s suspension of its February 2020 decision to terminate the U.S.-Philippines Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) continued. The VFA is the bilateral agreement that establishes the rules by which U.S. military personnel, vessels, and aircraft may enter the Philippines. In September, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte pardoned a U.S. Marine whose murder of a Philippine national had drawn local criticism of the VFA. The U.S. Embassy in Manila reported that it was engaging with the Philippine government and military leadership to encourage them to rescind the decision to terminate the VFA.
Despite progress made against ISIS-EA and other violent extremist organizations in recent years, the DoD believes that terrorist violence will remain a persistent threat in the Philippines for at least the next two years. Poverty, poor governance, and other systemic socio-economic issues in the southern Philippines continue to make this region a permissive environment for terrorist to operate. Ties between individual extremists and members of local communities also provide terrorists with opportunities to operate and recruit freely. Additionally, uncertainty about the future of the VFA and COVID-19 have complicated the DoD’s planning of future counterterrorism operations.
This quarter, the Lead IG agencies completed two reports related to OPE-P: an evaluation of DoD intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance supply chains and an inspection of DoS facilities. Both reports were classified. Six oversight projects related to the Philippines were ongoing as of September 30, 2020.
Section 8L of the Inspector General Act of 1978 provides a mandate for the three Lead IG agencies—the DoD, DoS, and USAID OIGs—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.