As clearly proven during the closing days of 2016 and early 2017, terrorism and violence around the world dominated the headlines. Not just the beleaguered Middle East, but also Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, France, Belgium, Turkey, Russia, Mexico, Brazil, Indonesia, the Philippines and even the U.S. were not spared wanton killings because of man’s inhumanity to fellowman.
According to some analysts, human mayhem could dominate 2017 events, despite indications of general economic recovery worldwide driven by the world’s powers –mainly China with its twin initiatives of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road and Economic Belt.
Technology has turned out to be not only a driver of prosperity, but a powerful “doom’s day machine” – in the hands of terrorists carrying out mindless violence, bloody religious fanaticism, and separatist rebellions – collectively called “asymmetric warfare.” The conjunction of Jihadism with cutting-edge technology now enables groups of stateless extremists to threaten even the greatest powers with weapons of mass-destruction of the biological-chemical kind – including tactical/portable nuclear types being infiltrated across borders.
In the Philippines, a climate of uncertainty and fear has been generated because of the Government’s vicious campaign against illegal drugs, despite continued popular support for President Du30’s unprecedented pivots toward China and Russia, plus his foul-mouthed diplomacy toward erstwhile allies.
Equally Deadly Under-development.
On the other hand, developing and less developed countries continue to grapple with the socio-economic challenges, mass poverty, endemic diseases, starvation, rising environmental degradation, and gross inequity between rich and poor.
During the past 15 years, Westerners have considered international terrorism as the greatest threat to human security. Accordingly, forces and resources have been expanded to counter its many forms. America’s immediate response to 9-11 was swift and powerful. The clearing of the Al-Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan under the mandate of the U.N. Security Council and the U.S. invasion of Iraq (even without U.N. authority) underlined the primacy of military solutions by powerful nations.
In contrast, “have-not” countries are realizing that development does not happen automatically, but lies only at the end of an arduous road that not everyone is capable of traversing. Many Third World countries have learned the sad lesson that development does not rain down – like manna from Heaven. Their economic shortcomings and social inequities are aggravated by the instability of international relations – mainly because of terrorist attacks and threats of nuclear strikes with which North Korea and the superpowers bully others.
These days, doubts are increasing about the “benefits” of globalization. Now, more and more people tend to believe that the market system (and “economies of scale”) is worsening the gap between rich and poor countries. In the Philippines, the classic examples are little family sari-sari stores being gobbled up by multitudes of “SM-type” megamalls.
Certainly, poor countries are beginning to realize how precarious the process of globalization is – How easily market mechanisms can generate massive resentments over economic exploitation, employer abuses, political oppression, and social injustice.
Global Terrorism & Conflicts Compel Closer Partnership
Obviously, there must be an intensification of efforts to reduce global poverty, which has become the breeding ground for envy, frustration, and despair – hence, the ready producer of terrorism and suicide-bombers.
Yes, the rich countries must help the poor; but the poor countries must also help themselves by putting their houses in order, thereby building up their self-reliance capacity via self-help.
This “bottom-up / top-down” concept (or the Filipino “bibingka” principle) is based on the expectation that we can create a better world – one that shall have closed the gap in personal security and economic well-being enjoyed by the world’s few rich on one hand, but on the other, not afforded to the poor majority. The community of nations, together, needs to cultivate a new culture of partnership and mutual responsibility.
The basic lesson derived from terrorist attacks and insurgencies is that the global community cannot allow conflict anywhere in the world to fester – because it will, sooner or later, generate dangerous complications and resentments elsewhere.
The Cold War strategy of deterrence or “massive retaliation” cannot work against suicidal terrorist groups that neither have homelands nor citizens to protect.
Neither can the superpowers wait until there is absolute proof of an imminent nuclear or terrorist attack to justify a pre-emptive strike. Although the U.S. has at hand its hair-trigger response (or “second strike” capability) against any terrorist threat, therein lie more seeds of further instability.
Reinvigorate NPOC and Reduce EJK
The volunteers against crime and corruption (VACC) headed by founding Chairman Dante Jimenez did President DU30 a big favor by hitting out against extra-judicial killings (E.J.K.) which are probably the result of police operations (Manila Standard, 03-January-2017).
While Jimenez criticized the PNP (not Pres. Du30), he suggested a Special Task Force composed of senior police officers and prosecutors to investigate the deaths that were victims of police operations, now numbering more than 6,000 or an average of 37 per day.
FVR fully agrees with this logical proposal because it follows the rule of law and the presumption of innocence of the suspects. President Duterte and his Cabinet are hereby encouraged to reinvigorate the National Peace and Order Council (NPOC) mechanism as the best means to harness people’s cooperation. FVR believes his two Presidential issuances are especially relevant and valid, namely:
- E.O. 20 (1992) reformed NPOC membership with the entrance of the DILG Secretary and PNP Director-General, and expanded its overall functions;
- E.O. 366 (1996) expanded its national membership, and fortified its security muscle by establishing Barangay Peace and Order Committees (BPOC):
- Coordinate the implementation of peace and order programs at the barangay level;
- Serve as information-gathering mechanisms;
- Identify residents with strong deviant behavior for referral to appropriate authorities;
- Coordinate and supervise operations of all community-based anti-crime movements within barangays; and
- Assess the prevailing peace and order situation in respective Areas of Responsibility and submit the recommendations to higher level POCs.
E.O. 366 (1996) stands out as the only one –among all NPOC-related issuances under other administrations —that reached out to the grassroots by involving barangay Kagawads (members) as intelligence assets.
It was during the FVR period that the national leadership extended strong support for the uplifting of local folks, by involving them as community stakeholders equally responsible for peace and order and their own safety/security – just like soldiers and policemen.
Collaboration towards Human Security
Choosing what is merely “safe” does not adequately equip the political leader to deal with the speed and force with which change is taking place today. Leadership that takes one cautious step after another will not solve present-day problems.
Between mid-1992 and mid-1998 (FVR’s time), there were no coups, no bloody demonstrations, no mass jailbreaks, no massacres – only a declinging communist insurgency, a final peace agreement with the MNLF, a continuing ceasefire with the MILF, and full transparency in the investigation of all police killings. Ask former Secretaries Raffy Alunan III (DILF), Rene de Villa (DND), and Tito Guingona (DOJ; VP). They’re still around.
Electing capable leaders is not easy, not even in a mature democracy. Choosing good rulers is quite difficult in poor countries where the masses too often count media popularity as the primary attribute for electing leaders.
The need for closer collaboration between rich and poor countries in dealing with political, economic and social challenges is underscored by the truism that globalization is binding all our countries into ever-closer interdependence. No longer can any nation, however self-sufficient, afford to stay complacent and heedless of whether others sink or swim.
The interfaith and intercultural dialogue started in the U.N., as initially proposed by the Philippines, Pakistan and Indonesia, would create a powerful mechanism for bridging development gaps. The global community must look beyond just the wars against drugs, corruption and terrorism – to deal once and for all with the world’s inequities, poverty foremost among them.
Nations must win their people’s allegiance by the power of their values and ideals. Not only must they neutralize terrorists and extremists; they must also help, in meaningful ways, poor people to prosper – and aim for a world order that offers full participation of all Earth’s peoples.
Our United Nations
Those who lead us today must maintain a truly strong brotherhood of nations to which all peoples belong – with equality, dignity and respect.
FVR believes that this is what the United Nations is all about. Today, 71 years after its charter signed on 26 June 1945 by 50 founding countries, including the Philippines, the UN is devoted to protecting individuals’ lives, providing for peoples’ well-being, and expanding human freedom.
Our UN is humankind’s only hope for a more peaceful, secure and prosperous future… not E.J.K.
If the “Traslacion” of the Black Nazarene patronized by some 1.5 million devotees thru the streets of Quiapo and Luneta Park last week took place without untoward incidents of the terroristic kind, our kudos and commendations go to the PNP, AFP, local officials and religious leaders. Let’s just hope the next “Traslacion” will also be trouble free inspite of continuing threats of the Maute-Abu-Sayyaf-BIFF jihadists.
Our Armed Forces and National Police have achieved a creditable record versus domestic and international terrorists over the years. Among our most successful experiences was against a cell of three terrorists associated with Osama bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda in 1995.
We tracked their entry into the Philippines in August 1994, arrested one of them in January 1995 in Manila, and shared the intelligence information that led to the capture within four months of the two others in Pakistan and Malaysia. It was our proof of close international cooperation.
This was the group led by Ramzi Yousef, which planned to assassinate President Bill Clinton in November 1994 while on a State Visit to the Philippines; Pope John Paul II during his January 1995 visit to Manila for the 10th World Youth Day; and other dignitaries including then President FVR. The group also planned to hijack eleven airliners plying the Asia-Pacific to be blown up in mid-air or used as flying bombs against CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia, U.S.A.
This entire bloody scenario was Al-Qaeda’s “OPLAN BOJINKA.” Yousef’s team included Abdul Hakim Murad, Wali Khan Amin Shah, and elements of Abu Sayaff – who provided on-site support.
They failed to assassinate the Pope, President Clinton and FVR. Although a test-bomb exploded on board a PAL airliner near Okinawa, it wasn’t strong enough to crash the plane. Then DILG Secretary Raffy Alunan III, Police Colonel Hermogenes Ebdane and Police Major Avelino Razon were our principal operatives. (The latter two, both PMA graduates, would become Chiefs of the PNP in later years).
Murad was turned over to FBI in April 1995. Most of the information he gave the investigators matched what was obtained from Yousef’s laptop taken from his room at the Josefa apartments near Roxas Boulevard in Manila.
Yousef’s group were the original perpetrators of the first bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City in February 1993 when several truck firebombs were used, but failed to topple the WTC towers. They were tried in New York, convicted and sentenced to four life imprisonments each.
In February 1996, on FVR’s instructions, our Government gathered in Baguio City the officials of 20 countries under terrorist threat – Ministers, Chiefs of National Police and National Intelligence, Ambassadors, and Experts – to plan for and implement collective action against extremists suspected to disrupt peace and development in our part of the world.
The Philippine intelligence community had long been aware of the dangers lurking within the strategies of the Jihadists. The terrorist network that gestated in the Philippines in the mid-1990s was eventually neutralized. If, however, the 9/11 attacks still took place six years after “Oplan Bojinka” despite Philippine interdictions, this is because some U.S. agencies failed to “connect the dots.”
Global Threat 2017 Forecast.
A loyal friend of the Philippines, Dr. Rohan Gunaratna, Head of Singapore’s International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, and Senior Fellow both at the Fletcher School for Law and Diplomacy (Boston) and the U.S. Military Academy’s Combating Terrorism Center (West Point), in his “Global Threat Forecast 2017” published by the Rajaratnam School of International Studies, forewarns:
Four significant developments will characterize the 2017 global threat landscape:
“First, the I.S. will likely transform from caliphate-building to a global terrorist movement. Similar to Al-Qaeda that dispersed from its Afghanistan-Pakistan core in 2001-2002 to conflict zones worldwide, I.S. will refocus on consolidating distant “wilayats” (provinces) as power bastions.”
“Second, the death of I.S. leader Abubakr al Baghdadi or Al-Qaeda’s Ayman al Zawahiri, may lead to collaboration or unification of these groups as the discord between them is a leadership dispute, not ideological.”
“Third, I.S., Al-Qaeda and their associates will compensate for losses in the physical space by expanding further into cyberspace. Despite government and technology firms collaborating in cyberspace operations, the battle-space of threat groups in ‘virtual communities’ will grow.”
“There is a fourth significant development which has emerged in response to I.S. This is the rise of far-right, ethno-nationalist, anti-Islamist populist movements, particularly in U.S. and Europe.”
“Insurgency, terrorism and extremism will therefore continue to characterize the international security landscape in 2017, exacerbated by the campaigns of the populist far-right movements.”
New U.S. Leadership.
“In the backdrop of intermittent threats and attacks, Donald Trump seeks to expend the U.S.-led coalition to dismantle I.S. and Al-Qaeda, and decapitate their leaders.
“Trump’s target-centric approach of eliminating the enemy and its infrastructure replaces Obama’s population-centric approach of engaging and empowering communities whilst adopting militarized responses. In the event that Trump and Vladimir Putin collaborate, the threat groups will suffer further loss of territory and operational capabilities. However, their growing pool of supporters will replenish their losses allowing I.S. to fight back and recover.
“Contrary to popular opinion, I.S. will remain a threat as long as its ideology lives. I.S. will continue to supplant Al-Qaeda’s influence operationally and ideologically.”
“I.S., Al-Qaeda and associated groups are likely to remain potent global actors in the domain of violence and extremism. These groups will frame their fights as responses to attacks against Islam and Muslims.”
Decentralization of Threats
“I.S. will compensate for the loss of territory by expanding horizontally and strengthening existing “wilayats” while declaring new ones. Self-declared Caliph Baghdadi last November 2016 referred to Algeria, Bangladesh, Egypt, Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Yemen, Somalia, West Africa, and the Philippines, as among the “wilayats.”
“The Distant “wilayats” will serve as I.S. power bastions and future launching pads to attack enemies. For Southeast Asian fighters, the regional hub is in Mindanao.”
“The global pool of foreign fighters with expertise and experience are likely to gravitate to “wilayats,” to home countries and other countries with familial links in Muslim minorities.”
Multiple Coalitions against I.S.
In 2015 to 2016, multiple contra-coalitions targeting I.S. contributed to the group’s loss of territory. With Russian airstrikes, Syrian government ground forces took Palmyra in March 2016, and in November 2016, U.S.-supported Kurdish and Arab groups attacked Raqqa, the de facto I.S. capital. U.S.-supported Iraqi and Kurdish forces attacked Mosul in October 2016.
“Both the Raqqa and Mosul HQ were used by the I.S. external wing to plan, prepare and execute attacks. In his speech in November 2016, Baghdadi called for ‘attack after attack’ against Saudi Arabia; and urged his fighters and supporters to ‘unleash the fire of their anger’ towards Turkey. The suicide bombing outside an Istanbul soccer stadium in December 2016 that killed 29 and injured 166 is a forecast of what I.S. could unleash in Turkey and others.”
Dr. Gunaratna concludes:
“The overall terrorism threat landscape is unlikely to change if the ground situation in Syria will not alter dramatically in the short term. Contrary to some assessments, I.S. will survive as long as civil war persists in Syria, and will pose growing threats to the West and other countries in 2017; the I.S. will decentralize, and will stage attacks worldwide.”
How will Filipinos guard and protect themselves against the onslaught of extremist terror groups in 2017 and beyond? Not just purely military solutions will work. The 51 AFP Battalions to be deployed against the Abu Sayyaf as claimed by AFP Chief Ed Año are woefully inadequate –-If only conventional tactics are used, and are without supporting anti-poverty programs, deep penetration type of intelligence operations, pro-active community development, legislative reforms, and consistent leadership at all levels starting at the very top.
The Philippines happens to be especially vulnerable because of its many soft targets, soft institutions, and soft systems.
It is time for our government to focus on combating terrorism, and reducing poverty, tax inequities, joblessness, tackle malnutrition, infrastructure deficiencies, smuggling, and climate change – instead of solely pursuing its tunnel vision on illegal drugs.
KAYA NATIN ITO!