Australian and Philippine law enforcement work together to keep the region safe
At midnight on 27 February 2004, a blast tore through SuperFerry 14 passenger ship sailing out of Manila to Cagayan de Oro, claiming the lives of 116 people. It was at the time the worst terrorist attack in Southeast Asia, after the 2002 Bali Bombing.
Between 2000 and 2007, over 40 terrorist bombings rocked the Philippines. Australia, as partner to the Philippines, looked at supporting local law enforcement – this included assistance from the Australian Federal Police to local law enforcement to investigate the SuperFerry bombing as well as the 2005 Makati bus explosion. A mastermind behind those terrorist attacks was arrested in 2007.
The Australian Federal Police has a long history of cooperation with Philippine Law Enforcement, extending back to 1984. In 2004 to 2005, this cooperation saw an increase in tempo with initiatives and funding by the Australian Government to build forensic and investigative capacity within the region. The Australian Federal Police worked with authorities in the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia to roll out South East Asian bomb data centres (BDC), reinforcing the strong regional cooperation required to combat terrorism.
In the Philippines, the Australian Federal Police’ Australian Bomb Data Centre (now part of the Australian Federal Police’ Weapons-Technical-Intelligence) provided the Philippine National Police’s (PNP) with expertise, knowledge, equipment and funding for the first purpose-built Philippine Bomb Data Centre (PBDC) in Camp Crame, Quezon City. The PBDC was created in September 2005 and served as a coordinating body to provide technical assistance, operational support, enhancement of training and strategic information on unlawful use of explosives.
The Philippines’ first dedicated forensic explosives investigative laboratory was set up in 2007 in Quezon City with funding support from the Australian Federal Police. Another laboratory was set up in Davao City the following year.
The centre plays a critical role in counter-terrorism – it collects and analyses data and pieces of evidence pertaining to bomb incidents, bombs, suspects, organisations, leadership and modus operandi. PBDC also maintains a databank of post blast investigation reports, technical data, photographs and pertinent documents. These are critical in identifying, prosecuting and dismantling terrorist groups, and preventing future attacks. Alongside research and data-management, the PBDC conducts training, seminars and other skills and competency building activities.
As with other BDC centres, the PBDC participates in fostering relationships with foreign counterparts in order to share and coordinate data and research, as well as keep up-to-date with best practice. The PBDC is held in very high regard amongst SE Asian law enforcement and other foreign law enforcement agencies.
With Australia’s support, PBDC satellite offices have been established in Davao, General Santos City and Zamboanga, Mindanao. They are closely-located with the Mindanao Area Police Intelligence Offices (MAPIO) in these locations, another Australian Federal Police-supported initiative. In 2018, the Australian Federal Police supported the MAPIO enhancement project to rebuild intelligence capabilities to counter terrorism threats in the region. The package of assistance to MAPIO included facilities upgrade, new equipment and vehicles, and capacity building. Through the project, MAPIO will be able to expand its cadre of civilian analysts with emphasis on diversity and technical skills.
Australian law enforcement agencies maintain a strong collaborative relationship with the PBDC and will continue to support regular IED related seminars and workshops, which include regional and FVEY involvement, and through the provision of equipment.
The Australian Federal Police are grateful for the opportunity to support, share and learn from the Philippines.
Australian Federal Police and Philippine National Police personnel trained together at the Rizal Park Grandstand to respond to mass casualty attacks, 2007