ISIS links to Philippine militants 'very strong', says Minister

Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana answers questions during a Reuters interview at the military headquarters of Camp Aquinaldo in Quezon city, Philippines on Feb 9, 2017.
Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana answers questions during a Reuters interview at the military headquarters of Camp Aquinaldo in Quezon city, Philippines on Feb 9, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

MANILA (REUTERS) - The Philippines is certain of the "very strong" links between the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group and home-grown militants and is concerned about the regional repercussions from tension between China and the new US administration, Manila's defence minister said on Thursday (Feb 9).

Intelligence from various sources had shown rebels in the southern Philippines had been communicating with ISIS, and funds were being sent from the Middle East via conventional mechanisms commonly used by overseas Filipino workers, Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in an interview.

He also said that some statements about China by advisers to US President Donald Trump were "very troubling", adding that defence agreements with Washington would make US troops based temporarily in the Philippines "magnets for retaliation".

"We are concerned if war breaks out and it is near us we will be involved whether we like it or not," Lorenzana told Reuters.

"The bottom line is the trade that's passing through the South China Sea does not belong to the Philippines. It belongs to the US, China Japan and Korea," he added.

He said internal security threats were growing and his ministry would next year request a doubling of its budget, or more, to address them.

On the issue of President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs, Lorenzana said the military's role would be limited to assisting the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) on a case-by-case basis in hostile situations.

"They go there if they are asked by PDEA and they need firepower, then we will assist, that's our job, that's all," he said.