On 27 February 2004, a Super Ferry passenger ship bound for Cagayan de Oro exploded, killing more than a hundred people from Manila. It was discovered four years later that the mastermind of the ferry bombing was affiliated with the Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist group, a network of Islamic radicals extending across Southeast Asia, and a primary target of the Philippine government.
To contribute to the efforts in targeting terrorists operating primarily in Mindanao but with demonstrated capability to strike Manila and the region, Australia through the Australian Federal Police and with the support of the Philippine National Police (PNP), established the Manila Regional Cooperation Team to work collaboratively with the PNP to contain and degrade threats to peace and stability caused by transnational crime and terrorism in the Philippines and the region. The Australian Federal Police has a long history of cooperation with Philippine law enforcement since 1984.
In 2005, then Chief PNP General Arturo Lomibao created the Mindanao Area Police Intelligence Office (MAPIO) to bolster the system of coordination, cooperation, and integration of efforts between and among PNP units and their counterparts in the Armed Forces of the Philippines in addressing insurgency, criminality and terrorism.
MAPIO, supported by the Australian Federal Police have been working toward peace and stability in Mindanao, providing insight into terrorism threats, supporting investigations, and helping save the lives of kidnap for ransom victims, including Australians. Through commitment to a common purpose, these joint activities have forged strong bonds between the PNP and the Australian Federal Police.
The Australian government, through the Australian Federal Police, has subsequently contributed to the ongoing development of the MAPIO, through the delivery of a variety of capacity building projects, such as building and later extending the MAPIO’s headquarters in Davao and other satellite offices.
Recognising the role of the MAPIO in degrading and containing the growing threat by the Islamic State inspired terrorist groups, the PNP and Australian Federal Police jointly designed and delivered the enhancement project of the MAPIO. The project enhanced the MAPIO’s capabilities in fighting terrorism and other security threats through technical support from the Australian Federal Police.
Upon the completion of the enhancement project, an official ceremony was held at the MAPIO in Davao, attended by the former Australian Ambassador and PNP Police Director General. The event formed part of the Philippines-Australia Friendship Day celebration held in Davao, in recognition of the enduring friendship between the two countries.
Collaboration between the Australian Federal Police and PNP through the MAPIO extends beyond the operational realms. The former MAPIO Chief attended the Australian Federal Police’s Management of Serious Crime Program in Australia, where he delivered his project paper on the structure and purpose of the MAPIO, cementing its existence in PNP fabric for next 12 years. He later became the PNP Director for Intelligence until his retirement in 2019.
A current MAPIO Intelligence Analyst will be undertaking postgraduate studies in Australia through the Australia Awards Scholarship, following consultation with the Australian Federal Police. After her studies, she has committed to undertake a project identifying persons online who are assessed as vulnerable to the terrorist narrative and divert them to alternate paths, contributing to the peace and security of the region.
The Australian Federal Police and the MAPIO continue to share and learn from each other by advancing their capabilities in response to the evolving threat environment. Together, they developed specialised training and workshops that have continued to produce positive results for both Australia and the Philippines.
This relationship extends to working with other Philippine and International enforcement agencies, to combat the extra territorial aspects of terrorism, broaden collaboration, and to share collective knowledge and resources.