Islamic State links to Philippine militants 'very strong' - minister


 Reuters International

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte makes a "fist bump", his May presidential elections campaign gesture, with defence secretary Delfin Lorenzana (L) and armed forces chief Lt. General Ricardo Visaya (R) and female soldiers during a visit at Capinpin military camp in Tanay, Rizal in the Philippines August 24, 2016. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

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MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines is certain of "very strong" links between Islamic State and home-grown militants and is concerned about regional repercussions from tension between China and the new U.S. administration, Manila's defence minister said on Thursday.

Intelligence from various sources had shown rebels in the southern Philippines had been communicating with Islamic State, 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.

Some statements about China by advisers to U.S. President Donald Trump were "very troubling", he said, adding that defence agreements with Washington would make U.S. 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 U.S., 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.

Lorenzana said the military's role in President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs 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.

(Reporting by Martin Petty and Manuel Mogato; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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