Philippine President Benigno Aquino III signed a law Monday that makes terror financing a crime with a long prison term in a Southeast Asian nation that has been scarred by bloody attacks and continues to battle al-Qaida-linked militants.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the "Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act" signed by Aquino is a new legal weapon against Abu Sayyaf gunmen, who have been crippled by years of U.S.-backed assaults but still pose a threat.
Financiers of terrorism were previously treated as mere accomplices, but the new law considers them as key players in terrorism. Aside from a 40-year prison term, convicted offenders can be fined up to 1 million pesos ($23,255).
The Philippines has long battled a number of al-Qaida-linked groups, including the Abu Sayyaf, which has been blamed for bombings, beheadings and kidnappings and accused of harboring foreign extremists.
Now hard-up for funds and weakened by battle setbacks, the Abu Sayyaf and their allied gunmen have turned to kidnappings and extortion for survival.
The new law empowers the government's Anti-Money Laundering Council to examine assets and bank accounts of suspected financiers of terrorists and extremist groups even without a court order.
Offenders can be punished even if the terrorist attacks they fund fail. The law applies only to financiers of extremists and organizations listed as terrorists by the Philippine government and the international community.
Military spokesman Col. Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos welcomed the new law, saying it would make it harder for the Abu Sayyaf and allied groups to acquire funds for new attacks and recruitment.
The Abu Sayyaf, which is on a U.S. list of terrorist organizations, was blamed for detonating a bomb on a ferry in Manila Bay in 2004 that killed 116 people in the worst terrorist strike in the country.