Philippines

Article excerpt

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Three people were recently convicted of attacking a train station in Manila in December 2000 and sentenced to life in prison. The resulting explosion killed 11 people and was part of a series of assaults that led to widespread death and injury.

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The ringleader, Saiffulah 'Moklis' Yunos, is a self-confessed member of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a separatist group dedicated to securing independence for the country's Muslim-majority Mindanao region. However, the Philippine and US governments have accused Yunos of carrying out the bombings on behalf of the regional terror group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), which carried out the October 2002 Bali bombing and has links to al-Qaeda.

As a country, the Philippines has enjoyed a chequered existence. A former Spanish and then US colony, it gained independence in July 1946. Following a period of post-war reconstruction and economic instability, Ferdinand Marcos came to power in 1965, ushering in a period of authoritarian government, corruption, political repression and human rights violations that lasted until his overthrow in 1986. The current political leader is President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, elected in 2004.

Composed of more than 7,000 islands, the Philippines is roughly the size of Italy, with a total land area of just less than 300,000 square kilometres. Its population of 95 million people are predominantly Catholic; however, significantly, about five per cent are Muslim, the majority of whom live in the impoverished south. Collectively, these people are known as the 'Moro' (from the Spanish for 'Moor'), although they represent at least ten distinct ethnic groups.

Post independence, the Philippines has remained geopolitically close to the USA. Although the end of the Cold War saw US naval bases close in 1992, the opening of the 'War on Terror' saw US troops and military advisers return in 2002.

The southern Philippines, along with Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and southern Thailand, were implicated in migratory flows of people, arms and ideas dedicated to the creation of a pan-Southeast Asian Islamic state, and several separatist groups operating in the south, including the MILF and the Abu Sayyaf Group, were reclassified as terrorist organisations. …

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