By Martin Sadongdong
Amid heightened tension between Iran and the United States, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said on Monday that it has intensified its intelligence gathering and monitoring of local terrorist groups that might launch sympathy attacks in the Philippines.
So far, the military has not come across any local threat group that has openly expressed sympathy to Iran, although the AFP is not letting its guard down, said AFP Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Felimon Santos Jr.
Santos, a veteran intelligence officer, said that monitoring local terrorist groups was among the initial plans they thought of when they discussed the situation with President Rodrigo Duterte at an emergency meeting in Malacañang on Sunday afternoon.
“We were called upon by the President yesterday [Sunday] afternoon just to discuss ‘yung impact sa atin ng nangyari sa (the impact of what happened in) Iraq, the killing of one of the Iranian generals [Qassem Soleimani], and of course we presented [what actions were] taken,” he said.
Santos said they are monitoring defense attaches in the Middle East, particularly in Iran and the neighboring countries, and local terrorist groups “that might express sympathy to the Iranian cause.”
“As of now, we have not monitored anything but we will continue monitoring and siyempre (of course) we are looking at the possible targets ng (of) Iran in other countries and to our country, ano ang pwede nilang gawin (what they are capable to do) just to retaliate,” he said.
According to Santos, the military has placed on standby status its air assets including C-130 transport planes, and naval assets in case the need to fetch affected Filipinos in Iran and Iraq arises.
The AFP chief said Duterte “is very concerned” with the welfare of the Filipinos in Iran and Iraq, and in other countries in the Middle East.
“He directed us to prepare and be ready to deploy our assets anytime to evacuate our Filipino countrymen in that area.
“Right now, we are ready to deploy anytime when the indicators show, and the decision of the government, for us to deploy. We will deploy [the assets] immediately,” he said.
An estimated 1,600 Filipinos are living in Iran, mostly are married to Iranians, while there are 6,000 Filipinos in Iraq, the majority of whom are overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), Santos said.
The tension between Iran and Iraq reached new heights following the killing of Soleimani, commander of Iran military’s Quds Force, in a drone airstrike ordered by U.S. President Donald Trump.