Islamic terror & Left wing extremism in Philippines : Faces of rebellion

PCID head calls for dramatic shift in public perception on Muslim insurgency in the South
CONSIDERING that violent extremism is a growing global threat that comes in different forms, a noted human-rights and peace advocate has called for a change of public perception in the country about it being mostly linked to the Muslim insurgency being waged in Mindanao.
“When you look at violent extremism, I think we should not be married to the idea that violent extremism is just faith-based,” said Amina Rasul-Bernardo, president of the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy (PCID).
In this November 23, 2016, file photo, members of the New People’s Army read a local paper at their guerrilla encampment tucked in the Sierra Madre Mountains southeast of Manila.
She made this appeal before government officials, foreign participants, representatives from different nongovernment organizations, members of the academe, media and others during the Talking Asean on “Preventing Violent Extremism through Good Governance and Rule of Law” forum held recently by think tank Stratbase ADR Institute and The Habibie Center’s Asean Studies Program in Makati City.
“When you talk about violent extremism, it’s always ISIS [Islamic State], the radicals or the Muslims. No. As far as I’m concerned and I come from the area of conflict, the ISIS is not as worrisome to meet,” she pointed out.
What these liberation fronts want, according to her, was just to “isolate themselves to carve out an independent kingdom” that will be recognized here and abroad.
“So please do not just focus your attention on Muslim Mindanao. Because all of these things are happening on a bigger scale outside of ARMM [Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao],” Bernardo told reporters on the sidelines of the forum.
The PCID official even cited that there are other huge problems now confronting the country, such as narco politics, smuggling, human trafficking, and gun running, among others.
“We are peanuts in Muslim Mindanao. So if you are going to be looking at cutting all of these criminal actions, is has to be a national government effort and not something that’s focused only on one sector of society,” she said.

Bigger danger

THE armed conflict that has been taking place in the country is not limited only in the south but all throughout the nation, Bernardo pointed out.
For Bernardo, the scarier and more dangerous threat for violent extremism would be those who want to overthrow governments and put in their own ideology.
And that would be the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist coalition of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), the New People’s Army (NPA), and the National Democratic Front (NDF), she added.
“They are nationwide, whereas, the ISIS is really in areas that are predominantly Muslims. Therefore, [it’s a] minority. But you find the left-leaning violent groups in areas from Luzon to Mindanao, particularly in very rich hunting grounds called mining areas because this is where the indigenous peoples are. They have their own grievances and, therefore, also easy to recruit,” explained the top-ranking PCID officer. 
These terror groups, despite their remote locations, have managed to sustain their rebellious activities for decades as they try to establish an independent state—thanks to the levy they impose on any kind of business that operates within their territories.
Proof of which, Bernardo cited, was a report from the Department of National Defense a couple of years ago about the revolutionary tax that was generated by the CPP-NPA-NDF. She said: “I think it was something like P5 billion a year.”
Such extortionist activity of these rebel groups ever since has not only robbed off potential earnings for the country, but also has averted the growth of their stronghold places.
“The CPP-NPA-NDF has been in existence for more than 50 years and it continues to drag down our economy, especially in those areas. There will be no massive development in those areas, primarily because [of constant concerns about the] CPP-NPA through attacks on government forces and through revolutionary taxation,” shared Jonathan Malaya, spokesman and undersecretary for plans, public affairs and communication at the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).
“If you’re a Filipino, that’s the bigger threat because we are very married to the idea of a democratic form of government that we’ve lived under for how many decades now. And you do not want that government system being changed in non-democratic ways, in violent ways,” Bernardo added.

‘Cancerous cells’

AKIN to a cancer cell that continues to reproduce and spread out to cause harm to other parts of the body, violent extremism over time has occurred not only in poor states but even in progressive and highly developed economies.
“The scary part of the ISIS-inspired violent extremism is that it really has metamorphosed,” Bernardo said.
In fact, she noted that “the ISIS cancerous cells” are not only confined in the Muslim communities where problems, such as bad governance, conflict, low education rates, and high adult illiteracy rates, among others, exist.
“But you find them in the strong countries that are pillars of democracy, with good governance, respectful rule of law, high GDP [gross domestic product],” she said.         
“You find them striking terror and operating in the areas like Washington, DC, New York, Australia, Japan and Europe. And the terror that they have struck there on their own is more damaging than what they have done in the Muslim communities.
“So when you try to equate good governance, corruption with violent extremism, I think you’re again missing out on more crucial factors that contribute to radicalization.”
As many have analyzed, it comes down almost to a case-by-case situation, regardless of the economic status, the kind of leadership and justice system a certain nation has.
“It’s something a little bit more that creates violent extremists out of .00001 percent of the population,” the PCID president said. “And you need trained people who know how to identify and how to deal with these people who have now been transformed from ideological radicals to violent extremists.”

National strategy

TAKING a whole-of-government approach to fight radicalization, the Duterte administration has come up with the National Action Plan on Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism (NAP P/CVE).
The government has adopted this strategy, which was started by the United Nations and picked up by the Asean, to prevent a repeat of the Marawi Siege in 2017, according to Malaya.
He said that it has been taken up via the Anti-Terrorism Council to address cultural, economic, political, psychosocial and religious factors of radicalization that result in violent extremism.
This plan, likewise, seeks to deal with other issues, such as marginalization, human-rights violations and non-adherence to the rule of law.
“Unsurprisingly, the plan also identifies the need to strengthen good governance and the rule of law as one of the keys to countering these root causes,” said Stratbase ADR Institute President Victor Andres Manhit.
“I was very impressed by what the Philippine government is doing,” said A. Ibrahim Almuttaqi, head of the Asean Studies Program at The Habibie Center. “It seems to be a very comprehensive national work plan.”
Indonesia, where he hails from, was among the first countries in the region to come up with a national workplan to avoid and combat violent extremism.
“I must congratulate Indonesia because the Indonesian process for creating the NAP for PVE has been exemplary in its inclusiveness,” Bernardo said as she recalled her participation, upon invitation by the Indonesian government, in three of the workshops held to discuss the crafting of this workplan for the most populous Muslim nations in the world.         
“This is, I guess, the realization that it’s not Indonesia alone. It’s all of Asean together. So whatever it is they do must also find a mirror image on the other side of the sea in Mindanao, Sulu, so that things work as they should and it has to be supported by Asean,” she added.
Unfortunately, though, such approach in engaging the stakeholders was not embraced in the Philippines, observed the PCID president.
“The putting together of the National Action Plan is not as inclusive as, for instance, Indonesia has been,” she said critical of the NAP P/CVE. “There is no way government alone can do this because you cannot monitor what’s going on in the communities. It’s us who can—the religious leaders, the young people, the business sector, the teachers, the madrasahs. They’re the ones who know what’s going on. And if they are outside the policy formulation for prevention of violent extremism, who will be the partners of national government?”
While the course of action on a national scale has been already laid down, Bernardo remains hopeful that this will still be improved in the near future. Taking a cue from their counterpart officials from the Anti-Terror Council and the DILG, she stressed that the move of these agencies to do more consultations with stakeholders needs a lot of support.



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