U.S. Holds Virtual Workshop on Counterterrorism Collaboration During COVID-19 in the Philippines

Manila, May 13, 2020 – Officials from the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., Department of Justice in the Philippines, and a Philippine Judge participated in a virtual workshop on counterterrorism hosted by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance, and Training (DOJ-OPDAT) in the Philippines on May 11.  The workshop, which included 65 participants, focused on ways to enhance U.S.-Philippine collaboration and coordination on terrorist investigations and prosecutions, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

According to U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim, who delivered opening remarks, “No country can fight the battle against terrorism alone because terrorists recognize no borders, and they honor no laws.”  He continued, “Terrorists view a global crisis as an opportunity.  So public officials must be vigilant against this threat, even in the midst of a public health crisis.  We are thrilled to be able to build on our strong counterterrorism cooperation.  I am confident that the initiatives like this workshop will continue to strengthen our shared fight against terrorism.”

Deputy Assistant Attorney General Bruce Swartz of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Criminal Division also delivered opening remarks.  He explained the use of battlefield evidence is critical in criminal prosecutions and cooperation among governments in sharing that information can be critical to a prosecution.  He said, “Police and prosecutors need to work collectively around the world.  This is a worldwide partnership to identify terrorists that threaten citizens of all nations.  I look forward to the work we continue to do together in fighting terrorism.”

“Despite the pandemic and the call for ceasefire by the United Nations and the Philippine government, terrorist activities continued, making our lives even more difficult,” said Philippine Prosecutor General Benedicto Malcontento.  “Clearly, COVID or no COVID, terrorists have no agenda for peace.  Their aim is destruction of lives and properties.  It is but fitting that we face these enemies with the full force of our laws.  It is imperative for us to collaborate with our citizens, law enforcement agencies and other important partners in combatting these terrorist groups and their activities.”

This virtual workshop aims to increase bilateral collaboration and coordination on terrorism investigations, prosecutions, and strengthen working relationships among prosecutors during the coronavirus pandemic, which terrorists are exploiting to plot and execute attacks.  It is part of DOJ-OPDAT’s ongoing program series, including conferences, trainings, workshops, and other activities focused on strengthening ties between U.S. and Philippine law enforcement officials working on terrorism cases.

Discussion topics included police-prosecutor cooperation, proper handling of explosives and other battlefield evidence, training police and military on chain of custody issues, and the use of digital evidence.  The workshop featured a panel discussion on counterterrorism investigations with an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, representatives from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Philippine experts.