Cold War Brewing Over South China Sea Tensions*

Anna Malindog-Uy

12 August 2020

In his fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA) on 27 July, President Rodrigo Duterte stated that, “Within ASEAN and beyond, the Philippines will continue to work with partners to address global perils and ramp up cooperation to secure for our peoples, greater peace, progress, and prosperity. The Filipino nation claims its rightful place in the community of sovereign states. Thus, we will continue to pursue an independent foreign policy.” 

He further reiterated that “Alam mo (you know), I read a little over three weeks or last month that the Americans would, intend to go back to Subic. I will just put on record my thoughts. I have nothing against America, I have nothing against China but if you put bases here, you will double the spectacle of a most destructive thing just like Manila during the Second World War, during the retaking of this city. One of the most devastated cities in the world. Kaya maglagay-lagay ka ng base (If you will put bases) at this time, this will ensure if war breaks out because there would be atomic arsenals brought in, this will ensure the extinction of the Filipino race.” 

Duterte was clear in his stand that he won’t allow the installation of military bases in the Philippines by the Americans, and he treats both, China and the United States (US) as friends, and intends to continue with his independent foreign policy. Under the Duterte administration, independent foreign policy is founded on fostering a broader and differentiated set of relationships solely based on Philippine national interests, designed to maximise the country’s autonomy, security, and prosperity. 

Duterte also said during his SONA that he is not predisposed to war against China in asserting Philippine claims in the South China Sea (SCS) and he will pursue a more diplomatic posture and stance as he thinks the country is not prepared for war with China

“We worked without fail to protect our rights in the South China Sea, neither beholden nor a pawn to anyone. We broadened the boundaries of Philippine diplomacy. We built productive ties with everyone willing to engage us based on equality and mutual respect. And, we redefined our relationships with our most important partners, placing the country in a far better position to advance our interests in an evolving regional order and emerging global problems,” he explained.

Duterte’s stand on the SCS, made both, local and international headlines. Many, most particularly the political opposition, reacted on the negative and construed it as an act of surrender and bowing down to China on the part of Duterte. These reactions are understandable and have their roots in The Hague tribunal ruling of 2016. 

The Hague tribunal ruled that China had violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) by interfering with Philippine fishing and petroleum exploration, constructing artificial islands, and failing to prevent Chinese fishermen from fishing in the zone. Though China rejected the ruling as baseless and invalid, for many if not the majority of Filipinos, it was a decisive victory. 

China’s rejection of the tribunal award coupled with some skirmishes in the SCS, generally impressed upon Filipinos the belief that China is indeed an “intimidator”, and is continuously encroaching on the sovereign claims of the Philippines in the SCS. This has largely triggered and infuriated Filipinos and instigated nationalist sentiments, that have led to negative perceptions and sentiments against China in the Philippines. 

South China Sea
Source: Various

Furthermore, such foreboding is continuously being fuelled by the vilification of China by some political figures, some sectors of Philippine society, and by the mainstream media to a greater extent. This has resulted in intensified distrust and cynicism among Filipinos towards the “middle kingdom”. Filipinos have also witnessed China’s rise on the global stage with alarm and suspicion.  

SCS Dispute 

On the disputes over the SCS, the Philippines is asserting its territorial rights diplomatically and peacefully through negotiations and dialogues as opposed to aggressive and confrontational means. This was evidenced by the declaration of Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on 12 July during the commemoration of the fourth anniversary of the arbitral ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague on the SCS case as “non-negotiable.” 

However, the next day (13 July), China rejected the appeal for compliance of the said tribunal award. China has always seen the tribunal ruling as invalid and illegal. Truth be told, not a single country, even the US or the Philippines for that matter can force or compel China to conform to the said tribunal decision other than by waging war. One has to take cognizance of the fact that, in the international arena, there’s no such thing as a “world government” with police power to impose such a ruling. That’s the reality of the matter.  

This international situation has presented a choice between conflict (war), or cooperation (peace), which is the peaceful resolution of the SCS dispute through diplomacy and constructive engagement with China on the part of the Philippines. Duterte being a realist and a pragmatic actor, prefers cooperation for he sees this as the way towards economic stability and the survival of the country, especially now more than ever, given that the country’s war with the novel coronavirus pandemic.   

While the Philippine government pursues a bilateral constructive engagement with China, asserting its territorial and maritime rights through diplomatic means, it also continuously works with ASEAN member states on the “China-ASEAN South China Sea Code of Conduct (COC). The COC is important for it seeks to manage inter-state relations within the SCS area and address disputes over territorial claims in the contested waters. 

The COC is based on a 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea signed by China and all 10 ASEAN member states. Multilateral regional settings like ASEAN are critical in dispute resolution for they have a strong norm-setting mechanism in institutionalising pleasant and amicable relations among geographically adjacent states. This institutional approach performs a complementary function to the bilateral talks and negotiations between China and the Philippines over the disputed CSC.

Hence, it is quite clear that the Philippine government stands its ground and is continuously asserting its rights in the SCS through various diplomatic means and settings. The position of the Philippines is thus far solid in its assertion of its territorial and maritime rights in the SCS. But the means to achieve these rights under the Duterte administration is through peaceful diplomacy and not aggression and confrontation.

Sino-Philippines Bilateral Relations 

In terms of Philippines-China relations, the Philippines is forging deeper friendly and cooperative relations with China on issues and matters where there already exists mutual and cooperative understanding in areas where the two countries have no disputes or differences such as trade. This to some extent boosts the mutual trust and confidence between the two nations. 

In as far as trade is concerned, China is fast becoming or already is the largest trading partner, the largest export market, and the largest source of imports and second-largest source of tourists of the Philippines. In 2018, bilateral trade between the two nations amounted to US$55 billion. In the same year (2018), China was the Philippines’ top investors with investments reaching US$980 million. In 2019, China was one of the major trading partners of the country with an export value of US$944.2 million. 

China accounted for 23.1 percent of total imports in August 2019 for the Philippines. In December 2019, the Philippines and China signed six bilateral agreements, which covered infrastructure, trade, customs, and communications bolstering the inter-state relations of the two countries. Two of these bilateral agreements, which is crucial to the Philippines is the “Davao City Expressway Project” with an estimated cost of around US$478.5 million, and the “Panay-Guimaras-Negros (PGN) Island Bridge Project”, with a cost amounting to US$535 million.  

The two countries even discussed the integration of the Duterte administration’s flagship “Build! Build! Build!” infrastructure program with China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), as well as the “Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement. The alignment of these infrastructure initiatives will lead to greater opportunities for cooperation and collaboration and bring forth mutual economic benefits to both countries. 

On 28 July, China promised that the Philippines will be prioritised once it comes up with a vaccine for the novel coronavirus to which the Duterte government is quite appreciative. Since the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak, China has been extending help and assistance to the Philippines. Both countries stand together towards mutual assistance and cooperation amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.  

Rising Tensions Between China And US 

With rising tensions and a growing cold war atmosphere between China and the US, the potential military confrontation between the two superpowers seems almost inevitable. On this note, one may find President Duterte’s recent declaration during his SONA somewhat wise, pragmatic, and rational. His realist and tactical stance of not “rocking the boat”, meaning not provoking China by asserting aggressively the Philippines’ sovereign claims on the SCS, and by not allowing the Americans to have military bases in the country, is probably a blessing in disguise and should not be misconstrued as “kowtow-ing” to China. 

Any possible skirmishes between the Philippines and China over the SCS will just lead to the escalation of tension between the two superpowers. This is something dangerous and will put the country on the brink of war with either of the two military giants. The fact of the matter is, the theatre of conflict for the imminent cold war between China and the US is the SCS.

Hence, while the country is waging a war against the novel coronavirus pandemic, it cannot afford to fight a proxy war at the same time for either of the two power blocs. The Philippines, as much as possible, must avoid being dragged into this confrontation between the two hegemons by maintaining an independent foreign policy – a neutral and independent position in which the Philippines is a friend to all nations of the world – while pursuing its strategic national interests, not necessarily aligned with either China nor the US.

The Philippines should continue to assert ASEAN centrality, which means unity and solidarity with its immediate neighbour-countries in Southeast Asia. It should also continue to forge good relations with the rest of Asia. 

The Philippines should continue to pursue good relations with “middle powers” like Russia, Japan, Brazil, India, the European Union (EU), and Australia, by exercising multilateralism and diplomacy as its primary weapons in international relations. It should continue consolidating its deterrence capacity by relying on its strength and capabilities as much as possible.

*This piece originally appeared in The ASEAN Post.

**Anna Rosario Malindog-Uy is a researcher, academic and consultant on a wide array of issues. She is currently a Research Associate at PIPVTR. She has worked with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and other local and international NGOs as a consultant. She is President of Techperformance Corp, an IT-based company in the Philippines.

Photo Credit: AFP as used by The ASEAN Post.

Threats of Violent Extremism and Terrorism in the Philippines Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic

by Rommel C. Banlaoi

10 August 2020

Introduction

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, terrorist threats worldwide continue unabated.  In fact, international terrorist groups are taking advantage of the pandemic to propagandize, recruit and mount violent attacks.  The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), for example, is currently experiencing a rapid resuscitation as the pandemic is providing the group the needed oxygen to recover.  The Philippines is one of the countries most affected by the twin threats of terrorism and COVID-19 pandemic.

Terror Threats Persist Worldwide During the Pandemic

According to the Country Reports on Terrorism published by the Bureau of Counterterrorism of the US State Department in June 2020, dangerous terrorist threats persisted around the world.[1]  Though ISIS already lost some of its key leaders and major territories as a result of the US-led Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, the group has effectively adapted “to continue the fight from its affiliates around the globe and by inspiring followers to commit attacks”.[2] 

While the whole world is preoccupied overcoming the terrifying onslaught of COVID-19, ISIS is mounting a global resurgence.[3]  ISIS is exploiting the pandemic to ramp up attacks in areas where they still maintain significant followers beyond Iraq and Syria. ISIS even regards the coronavirus as the “soldier of Allah” that is part of the global jihad against the infidels.

Thus, the world at present faces two deadly pandemics:  COVID-19 pandemics and the pandemics of terrorism.  Both carry noxious viruses that are contagious, lethal, and virulent.  Until now, we are still in search of an effective vaccine to halt these viruses from spreading fear and wreaking havoc to the whole of humanity.

The Philippines: COVID-19 Hotspot and Epicenter of Terror Threats in Southeast Asia

The Philippines is not spared from the threats of these twin pandemics.  The Philippines has become the COVID-19 hotspot in Southeast Asia with close to 130,000 confirmed cases to date.  The Philippines has almost doubled the infection rate in China, the ground zero of infections.  The COVID-19 pandemic is providing ISIS followers in the Philippines the conducive environment to spread violent extremism and to sow terror while taking advantage of law enforcement authorities preoccupied in implementing quarantine measures to contain the spread of the disease.

Since March 2020, ISIS followers in the Philippines have conducted around 700 violent attacks amidst the pandemic based on military intelligence reports.  From 18 April to 12 June 2020 alone, at the height of the first wave of the pandemic, the Philippine National Police (PNP) recorded 588 violent activities of ISIS followers in the country. 

Source: Philippine National Police, July 2020

The most devastating attack, so far, was on 17 April 2020 when the ASG killed eleven and wounded 14 soldiers of the Philippine Army in a firefight in Patikul, Sulu.[4] The ASG ambushed the Philippine soldiers while they were conducting their hot pursuit operations against followers of Radullan Sahiron and Hatib Sawadjaan, two top ASG leaders in Sulu.[5]

The Philippines has, therefore, become the epicenter of ISIS terror threat in Southeast Asia.   The Global Terrorism Index listed the Philippines as the only country in Southeast Asia belonging to the top-10 countries in the world most impacted by terrorism in its report in 2019.[6]  It is very likely for the Philippines to be listed again as one of the countries most impacted by terrorism in 2020 with the persistence of terrorist activities in the Philippines during the COVID-19 pandemic.[7] 

Rise of Suicide Terrorism in the Philippines

The face of terrorism in the Philippines has become more perilous with the rise of suicide terrorism.  Three years after the Marawi siege, the Philippines suffered the following suicide terrorist attacks, so far:

  • Lamitan City suicide bombing involving a German national with a Moroccan descent (31 July 2018)
  • Jolo Cathedral suicide bombing involving Indonesian couple (27 January 2019)
  • Indanan, Sulu suicide bombing involving a Filipino (28 June 2019)
  • Indanan, Sulu female suicide bombing involving an Egyptian national (8 September 2019)

On 5 November 2019, the Philippine military foiled an attempted suicide bombing in Sulu when troops killed in action two Egyptian nationals in Jolo.  The Philippine police, on the other hand, foiled another planned suicide terrorist attack in Metro Manila when agents killed four operatives of the Abu Sayyaf Group in their safe house in Parañaque City on 26 June 2020.  The shooting incident involving military and police operatives in Jolo on 29 June 2020 was related to a military mission to run after female suicide bombers.

The rise of suicide terrorism in the Philippines arises from the contagious effect of the ideology of violent extremism propagated by ISIS foreign terrorist fighters in the country.   ISIS foreign terrorist fighters capitalize on local grievances, historical animosities, and feeling of injustices to propagate violent extremism in the Philippines, particularly in conflict-affected areas of Mindanao.  Violent extremism is the ideology that justifies acts of terrorism in the Philippines.

Where are the Threats of Violent Extremism and Terrorism in the Philippines Coming From?

During the pandemic,  there are at least six active pro-ISIS terrorist groups operating in the Philippines:[8]  the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), the Turaipe Group of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), the Abu Zacaria Group (AZG), the Nilong Group, the Salahuddin Group, and Suyuful Khilafa Fi-Luzon.  All these groups belong to an umbrella organization described by the Philippine military as Daula Islamiya Philippines (DI-P) or Islamic State Philippines (ISP), which is the main base of the ISIS East Asia Wilaya or the Islamic State East Asia (ISEA) more known by followers as Wilayah Sharq Asia.  Supporting these groups are foreign terrorist fighters coming largely from Indonesia and Malaysia but with significant personalities coming also from the Arab world, North Africa and Europe.

Source: PIPVTR, August 2020

Abu Sayyaf Group

There are three known major factions of the ASG.    Two of these factions are in Sulu.  One is headed by Hatib Sawadjaan while the other one is headed by Radullan Sahiron.   

Sawadjaan is a pro-ISIS leader known to be the de-facto Amir of DI-P or Daula Islamiya Alfalabin.[9] He pledged allegiance to ISIS in 2014.  The Philippine military calls his group as Daula Islamiya Sawadjaan Group (DI-WG) with around 300 regular armed followers operating in Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and even Sabah.  DI-SG is responsible for a series of suicide bombings in Sulu and kidnapping activities in Sabah.

Sahiron is not a pro-ISIS leader.  He used to be affiliated with Al-Qaeda being one of the original founders of the ASG then under the leadership of Abdurajak Janjalani.  Sahiron continues to be in the list of most wanted terrorists by the US State Department.   But Sahiron slows down his violent activities during the rise of ISIS having been overshadowed by his erstwhile lieutenant, the late Isnilon Hapilon who became the leader of Daula Islamiya Wilayatul Mashriq (Islamic State Province in East Asia) responsible for the 2017 Marawi Siege.    Sahiron continues to have around 50 armed followers operating mainly in his little kingdom in Patikul, Sulu.

Sahiron developed an adversarial attitude towards ISIS having suffered near-death experiences with Al-Qaeda operatives in Mindanao.  Thus, he refused to pledge allegiance to ISIS.[10]

Another faction of the ASG is based in Basilan now headed by Furuji Indama who pledged allegiance to ISIS in 2014.   He is a pro-ISIS leader who used to be the number two man of Hapilon who pledged allegiance to ISIS twice: in 2014 and 2016. 

Indama has around 20 regular armed followers in Basilan with support network operating in Zamboanga City and Zamboanga Peninsula, particularly in Zamboanga Sibugay.  Being a pro-ISIS leader, Indama also provides tactical support to the activities of Sawadjaan.

Turaipe Group

The Turaipe Group refers to the faction of the BIFF headed by by Esmael Abdulmalik (Alias Commander Turaipe/Turaifie).   He pledged allegiance to IS in April 2017 just a month before the Marawi Siege.   Commander Turaipe formed his own pro-IS group called Jama’ahtul Mujahirin Wal Ansar (JMWA) based largely in Datu Salibo town of Maguindanao.[11]

After the Marawi Siege, Commander Turaipe continued his armed activities in the provinces of Maguindanao and North Cotabato through ambuscades, roadside bombings, liquidations, and harassments on behalf of ISIS.   Commander Turaipe even renamed his group as Daulah Islamiya Maguindanaw (DIM) or the Islamic State of Maguindanao, a pro-ISIS group responsible for most of the violent attacks in Maguindanao three years after the Marawi siege.  The military calls his group as DI-Turaipe Group with more than 80 armed followers.

Zacaria Group

The Zacaria Group refers to remnants of the Maute Group.   It is  presently led by Commander Ker Mimbantas who is also known as Commander Zacaria or Commander Omar.  He was one of the officers  of the Maute Group, also known as the Daula Islamiya Ranao or the Islamic State of Lanao. 

Commander Zacaria has around 40 armed followers operating mostly in Lanao del Sur and Marawi City.  He used to work with the Maute brothers (Abdullah and Omarkayam)  and Abu Dar. When these leaders died, he rose to prominence being the nephew of the late Alim Abdul Azis Mimbantas, the former Vice Chairman for Military Affairs of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).  The military calls the Zacaria Group as the Daula Islamiya Zacaria Group (DI-ZG).   

Nilong Group

The Nilong Group represents the remnants of the Ansar Khilafa Philippines (AKP) then led by  Mohammad Jaafar Maguid  more known as Commander Tokboy. The group is being led by a certain Jeoffrey Nilong, alias Commander Momoy believed to be holding his makeshift camp in Polomolok, South Cotabato.  The military calls this shadowy group as Daula Islamiya Nilong Group (DI-NG) with only around 10 followers operating mainly in the provinces of South Cotabato, Sarangani and General Santos of the Southern Philippines.  The group was responsible for the bombing in General Santos in September 2018.[12]

Salahuddin Group

The Salahuddin Group is  being led by Hassan Salahuddin, the first leader who pledged allegiance to the new ISIS Caliph, Al-Qurashi, on 11 November 2019.  Salahuddin used to be a member of the Al Khobar Group (AKG), the Special Operation Group (SOG) of the MILF in the 1990s. The AKG was responsible for a series of extortion activities in Mindanao cities of Tacurong, Kidapawan, Koronadal and General Santos using skills in bomb making. 

Salahuddin developed his skills in bomb making through his mentors, Basit Usman and Marwan (Zulkipli bin Hir) who were targets of Mamasapano clash on 25 January 2015.  When Basit Usman organized the Al Khilafa Sarangani in 2012, Salahuddin joined him to conduct training on bomb making with pro-ISIS followers in Central Mindanao. When Basit Usman died on 3 May 2015 in a military encounter, Salahuddin joined the BIFF-Turaipe Group in order to establish the Daula Islamiya Maguindanao.   

With the support of BIFF-Turaipe Group, Salahuddin masterminded the Isulan, Sultan Kudarat bombings on 28 August 2018 and 2 September 2018.  DI-SG also coddles foreign terrorist fighters through the assistance of a long-time friend, Mauwiya, a Singaporean follower of Jemaah Islamiya.  Mauwiya has been operating in Central Mindanao since the 1990s. 

The military calls the  Salahuddin Group as  Daula Islamiya Salahuddin Group (DI-SG) with around 10 followers trained in bomb making. The group is operating mainly in Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat provinces.

Suyuful Khilafa Fi Luzon

The Suyuful Khilafa Fi Luzon (SKFL) or the Soldiers of the Caliphate in Luzon operates mainly in Luzon, particularly in the National Capital Region (NCR), Ilocos Region and Bicol Region.  Composed mostly of Muslim converts, the SKFL evolved from Jamal Al Tawhid Wal Jihad (JTJ) Philippines whose members pledged allegiance to ISIS in 2014.  Members of JTJ Philippines were followers of Abu Musab Al Zarqawi who founded  the JTJ in Iraq that became known as  the Al-Qaeda in Iraq.  After the death of Osama bin Laden, Al Zargawi reorganized the JTJ as the Islamic State in Iraq, the forerunner of the present day ISIS.

The SKFL cooperates with pro-ISIS groups operating in the NCR. The SKFL was responsible for several bomb threats and foiled bombing activities in Metro Manila during the Summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in November 2017 and the Summit of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in November 2016 as well as the visit to Manila of Pope Francis in January 2015. The SKFL was also responsible for several bomb threats in Northern Luzon in November 2019 threatening to attack Catholic churches.[13]  

Though based in Luzon, the SKFL also operates in Southern Visayas and Northern Mindanao by penetrating Muslim converts or Balik Islam communities in these areas.   However, the military only identifies more than ten active operatives of the SKFL pursuing violent activities.

Foreign Terrorist Fighters

Foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) operating in the Philippines are foreign operatives of ISIS planning and conducting violent activities in the country, particularly in Mindanao.   Intelligence estimates in 2018 indicated close to 100 pro-IS FTFs in the Philippines.[14]    But intelligence estimates at the end of 2019 downgraded the figure to 59 “watch-listed” and 7 under hot-pursuit FTFs.[15] During the Marawi liberation; the AFP identified 32 dead bodies of FTFs from the ground zero.[16]

Most FTFs coming to the Philippines were from Indonesia and Malaysia while others came from the Arab World, particularly from Egypt and Saudi Arabia.   From the 59 “watch-listed” FTFs, some are suspected to be coming from Europe, North Africa, and even from Xinjiang Province of China. 

FTFs come to the Philippines to facilitate transfer of funds and weapons to local supporters, to conduct violent extremist propaganda activities, and to transfer skills in religious jihad.[17] FTFs also regard the Philippines as an alternative home base, a new land of jihad, and a very excellent sanctuary or safe haven because of domestic Muslim resistance, weak law enforcement, and very porous borders.  More importantly, their local counterparts welcome the entry of FTFs despite their recent setbacks in Iraq and Syria.

FTFs can enter the Philippines through several backdoors from Sabah covering the maritime borders of the Philippines and Malaysia and from Manado covering the maritime borders of the Philippines and Indonesia.[18]  But most of the FTFs have entered the Philippines through normal immigration process at the Philippine airports using budget airlines. 

Source: PIPVTR, August 2020

Conclusion

During the COVID-19 pandemic, threats of violent extremism and terrorism in the Philippines persist through the continuing activities of ISIS followers operating in the country.    Though the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed the entry of FTFs to the Philippines, those who are already in the country continue to spread the ideology of violent extremism that encourages ISIS followers to commit various acts of terrorism, especially suicide terrorism.

Suicide terrorism is the current face of terror in the Philippines.  ISIS is taking advantage of the pandemic to propagate the ideology of violent extremism and to support acts of terrorism in the Philippines by funding, training, and mobilizing pro-ISIS groups in the country.

In short, the Philippines is confronting the challenges of the twin pandemics from COVID-19 and ISIS. Overcoming these challenges needs an innovative countermeasure that is dynamic, comprehensive, holistic, inclusive and lawful.

*This paper was originally prepared for presentation at the Online Seminar Workshop on Conflict Monitoring and Research Methodologies for Population-Based Studies About Conflict, Terrorism and Peace and Development Initiatives organized by the Western Mindanao State University, Zamboanga City on 10 August 2020. Also published in Eurasia Review and FBI Forum.

Photo Credit: Google Images


END NOTES

  1. Bureau of Counterterrorism,Country Reports on Terrorism (Washington DC:  US State Department, June 2020), p. 2.

2. Ibid.

3. Joseph Hincks, “With the World Busy Fighting COVID-19, Could ISIS Mount A Resurgence?”, Time, 29 April 2020.

4. Rommel C. Banlaoi, “Tackling the ASG:  Need to Rethink Strategies,” RSIS Commentaries (Singapore:  S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, 8 May 2020). https://www.rsis.edu.sg/rsis-publication/rsis/tackling-abu-sayyaf-need-to-rethink-strategies/

5. Ibid.

6. Global Terrorism Index 2019:  Measuring the Impact of Terrorism (Sydney:  Institute for Economics and Peace, November 2019).

7. Rommel C. Banlaoi, “Terrorism In The Philippines During The Pandemic: Persistent Threats Three Years After Marawi Siege,” Eurasia Review, 15 May 2020. https://www.eurasiareview.com/15052020-terrorism-in-the-philippines-during-the-pandemic-persistent-threats-three-years-after-marawi-siege-analysis/

8. This section is an updated version of Rommel C. Banlaoi, “Three Years After Marawi Siege:  Terrorism in the Philippines Persist Amidst COVID-19 Pandemic”, Think Pieces (Cotabato City:  Institute for Autonomy and Governance, 22 May 2020)   at http://iag.org.ph/think/1888-three-years-after-marawi-siege-terrorism-in-the-philippines-persists-amidst-covid-19-pandemic.

9. Peter Chalk, “The Islamic State in the Philippines: A Looming Shadow in Southeast Asia?”, CTC Sentinel, Vol. 8, Issue No. 2, March 2016.

10. Rommel C. Banlaoi, Al-Harakatul Al=Islamiyyah: Essays on the Abu Sayyaf Group, Terrorism in the Philippines from Al-Qaeda to ISIS, 4th Edition (Quezon City: Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research, 2019).

11. Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium (TRAC), “BIFF/ISEA Unit Jamaah Mohajirin Wal Ansar”, 16 September 2018.

12. “Nilong Group Tagged behind GenSan Blast,” Mindanews, 19 September 2018.

13. “Philippines: Islamic State-Linked Terrorist Group Reportedly Plotting Attacks Against Northern Targets”, Stratfor Situation Report, 7 August 2019 at https://worldview.stratfor.com/situation-report/philippines-islamic-state-linked-terrorist-group-reportedly-plotting-attacks

14. Zam Yusa, “Philippines: 100 foreign fighters joined ISIS in Mindanao since the Marawi battle,” The Defense Post, 5 November 2018.

15. Raul Dancel, “Foreign terrorists in Mindanao training suicide bombers: Philippine security officials,” The Strait Times, 23 July 2019.

16 Zam Yusa, “Philippines military photos show children among ISIS foreign fighters killed in Marawi,” The Defense Post, 25 October 2018.

17. National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, “Terrorism Situation in Relation to the Threats of Foreign Terrorist Fighters,” 2 March 2020.

18. Zam Yusa, “Malaysia and Indonesia foreign fighter transit routes to Philippines identified,” The Defense Post, 20 November 2018.

Opposition to Anti-Terror Law Unjustified, All About Politics

The Manila Times

30 July 2020

Petitions against the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 have been piling up at the Supreme Court.

Earlier, many of the petitioners and other like-minded people have been engaged in vigorous discussions in various fora, on social media and even in a few protests to air their fears and concerns. These activities offer evidence that free speech and democracy is alive and well in the Philippines.

While we respect the right of all people to form an opinion on the anti-terror law, we cannot help but notice that the arguments against that controversial legislation seem incongruent with what it actually says. In some cases, the arguments are illogical.

Read more.

This piece was originally published in Manila Times on 26 July 2020.

Photo Credit: TMT FILE PHOTO as used in Manila Times.

Building Philippines-China Relations for the Future During the COVID-19 Pandemic

by Ambassador Jose Santiago L. Sta. Romana*

28 July 2020

Introduction

The theme of this event is quite apt as we are meeting under very different circumstances. However, it is important that we adapt and adjust so that we may overcome the challenges presented by COVID-19 to the whole of humanity.

The current pandemic has unfortunately affected the pace of our bilateral cooperation to a certain degree but it has also opened a new dimension in the relations between the Philippines and China. Our two countries helped each other in the early days of the pandemic and continue to do so today. For the Philippines, we were among the first to send medical aid to the Chinese people, especially those affected in Wuhan. On the part of China, a medical team was sent and visited the country for two weeks providing useful advice to counterparts in the health field. China also donated PPEs, ventilators, and testing kits, among others. There were also more than 50 Philippines Air Force flights that flew over SCS to Xiamen, Quanzhou, Changsha, Shenzhen and Shanghai to pick up medical equipment and supplies. These were of great help to the Philippines and the Filipino people in the fight against COVID-19. This level of cooperation should continue, especially as the Philippines is currently experiencing a high number of cases after partially reopening its economy.

Philippines-China Relations

This year is an important one in Philippines-China relations as we commemorate the 45th anniversary of diplomatic relations. Our two peoples have actually had a much longer history of contacts. The Filipino and Chinese people have been interacting, trading, and visiting one another for several centuries prior to the establishment of formal diplomatic ties. Many Filipinos have Chinese ancestry and can trace their roots back to the mainland.

This level of people-to-people exchange continues to this day. Prior to COVID-19 outbreak, China was the Philippines’ second largest tourist market and was on the verge of becoming number one. We have also had a notable increase in Chinese investments in the country, as the Philippines joined the Belt and Road Initiative, which dovetails with President Rodrigo Duterte’s signature initiative, known as the Build Build Build program. This program aims to improve and expand numerous infrastructure projects in the Philippines so as to spur economic development.

China has also been working with the Philippines on development issues as we both strive to achieve the 17 goals and 169 targets as listed in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. China is one of our most important development partners and Philippines-China cooperation in this regard, is a very good example of South-South Cooperation.

In terms of trade, China has become our number one trading partner and this trend will likely continue. Regionally, ASEAN countries are looking forward to expanding the economic relationship with China and other trade partners via the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. The potential of RCEP for global growth and trade is significant and could help fuel global economic growth once the effects of COVID-19 subside and the global economy rises from it.

It is my belief that Philippines-China relationship, elevated to the level of comprehensive strategic cooperation in 2018 after the State Visit of President Xi Jinping, will continue to develop and grow in spite of COVID-19. The economic and development partnership are important to both sides, especially as we both implement measures to restart our respective economies in the face of COVID-19.

The overall bilateral relationship is a positive one and there are many areas for cooperation and engagement that can be pursued. As in any relationship, however, there are a few differences. The West Philippines Sea is one such issue. There are contentious issues between the Philippines and China with regard to this matter, but there is a clear understanding between the two sides that the disputes are not the sum total of the Philippines-China relationship and should in no way be a hindrance to the continuing development of other areas in the bilateral relations. More importantly, there are mechanisms in place for the two sides to openly discuss and manage the differences, and continue to find solutions, as well as the way forward on this issue.

Closing

In closing, I wish to stress the positive overall status of the bilateral relationship between the Philippines and China. In spite of or maybe even because of the difficulties brought upon by COVID-19, our two countries will continue our constructive engagement as we strive to assist each other in order to ensure economic recovery and achieve our respective development goals, for the benefit of the Filipino and Chinese peoples.

I thank you for your kind attention and wish you a pleasant morning.

Remarks by on the Occasion of the Webinar organized by the Philippine Association for Chinese Studies and the Jinan University Center for Philippine Studieswith the theme, “Building Philippines-China Relations for the Future:China-Philippines Relations During COVID-19”, 0900H-1100H, 27 July 2020

*Ambassador Jose Santiago “Chito” Sta. Romana is an award-winning journalist. He served as the Beijing bureau chief of ABC News. He won an Emmy award in the news and documentary category in 2000. In 2008, he was awarded by the Overseas Press Club of America for covering the massive China earthquake. Prior to his current post as Ambassador of the Philippines to China, he was the President of the Philippine Association of Chinese Studies. He lived and worked in China until his retirement in 2010. He went back to China in 2016 as the Philippine ambassador until now.

Photo Credit: Philippine News Agency and PTV News

Join Hands to Overcome Disruptions and Challenges in the Fast Changing World

by Ambassador Huang Xilian*

27 July 2020

It is my delight to join you on-line to talk about building China-Philippines Relations against the backdrop of COVID-19.

First and foremost, I would like to congratulate you on the convening of this very timely and meaningful webinar under the current situation. I would also take this opportunity to pay tribute to all the experts and scholars who have long been dedicated to China-Philippines relations.

China and the Philippines are close neighbors across the sea sharing time-honored bonds of kinship and friendship. Under the leadership of President Xi Jinping and President Duterte, China-Philippines relations have been moving along the upward trajectory and ushering in the New Golden Age. Facing the common challenge of the COVID-19, both countries have spared no efforts to support and assist each other, nurturing a closer partnership in the new era.

Last month, our two leaders spoke on the phone to celebrate the 45th anniversary of our diplomatic relations, providing renewed strategic guidance and political impetus to the growth of bilateral relations.

The COVID-19 pandemic has become a global crisis with far reaching impact. People’s health and lives are under grave threat and the global economy has plunged into a deep recession. Globalization and regional cooperation are facing grave challenges. On top of that, some superpower is wantonly bossing around to stir up rivalry and geopolitical tensions. In light of the pandemic and evolving regional situation, we have to address arising challenges to further grow China-Philippines relations.

Firstly, the lingering maritime dispute. Properly handling the issue and maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea bear on the long-term and sustainable development of bilateral relations.

Secondly, the alarming external disruptions. Glutted with cold-war mentality, some superpower is instigating the containment and oppression of China in every possible way, trying to sow discord among regional countries,and even forcing them to choose sides. Under such pressure and complicated circumstances, it takes the Philippines strategic insight and strong will to uphold its independent foreign policy .

Thirdly, the ailing public sentiments on China. Driven by ulterior political motives, some Philippine politicians keep on slandering China-Philippines relations and whipping up hostility against China. Mutual understanding and good faith between our peoples have to be further enhanced.

In the fast changing world, China and the Philippines are bound to navigate through all these disruptions and challenges with concerted efforts. We should earnestly pull together in the following key aspects:

Firstly, we should continuously deepen good neighborliness and friendship in spite of external disruptions. The important consensus reached between President Xi Jinping and President Duterte, such as setting aside maritime disputes, managing the situation through bilateral consultations and enhancing dialogue and cooperation, have to be vigorously implemented by both sides, so that the hard-won sound momentum of bilateral relations could be well preserved and enhanced.

Secondly, we should continue to manage maritime disputes through friendly dialogue and consultations, including the Bilateral Consultation Mechanism (BCM) and advancing the consultation on the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC). As Hon.Secretary of Foreign Affairs Locsin said, the South China Sea issue is not the sum total of China-Philippines relations; it is just a little pebble on the avenue leading to our mutually beneficial economic progress, and we mustn’t stumble over the little pebble.

Thirdly, we should not allow external powers to roil the waters in the South China Sea, nor waver our commitment to pursuance of independent foreign policy and China-Philippines friendly relations. The Philippines’ future will not float in anywhere, but will be deeply rooted in its own national development, in a stable and amicable neighborhood, and in a peaceful and prosperous Asian region.

Fourthly, we should explore new opportunities for common development under the new normal and in the post-pandemic era. As one of the first countries to stem the spread of the COVID-19, China has steadily revived economy. In the second quarter this year, China’s gross domestic product expanded by 3.2 percent year-on-year, making it the first major economy bouncing back to growth so far.

China will continue to engage with the Philippines in joint COVID-19 prevention and control and exchange experience on resumption of work and production. We should step up efforts for the establishment of a “fast lane” for urgently needed personnel exchanges and “green corridor” for logistics, so as to ensure stable industrial and supply chains.

China stands ready to continue to synergize the Belt and Road Initiative and Build, Build, Build program and accelerate the implementation of cooperation projects to stimulate economic recovery and growth of the Philippines. Seizing the new opportunities highlighted amid the pandemic, we need to strengthen such digital economic cooperation areas as 5G, big data, and artificial intelligence to foster new growth drivers for bilateral cooperation.

Last but not the least, we should strengthen extensive interactions and exchanges between political parties, congress, local governments, media and think tanks of our two countries, to foster a favorable atmosphere for the China-Philippines relationship to grow from strength to strength.

Under the still raging pandemic crisis and the profound changes, the future of our two peoples are ever more intertwined. We should and we will heal, recover, and grow as one. It is with this hope that I look forward to hearing your insightful input and discussions. Thank you and mabuhay!

Keynote Speech delivered during the Webinar on China-Philippines Relations During the Covid-19 organized by the Philippine Association for Chinese Studies and the Center for Philippine Studies of Jinan University, Guangzhou, China on 27 July 2020.

*The author is currently the Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines. Thus far, he worked with China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) for 30 years. He also served as China’s Ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). He also became a Political Counsellor of Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the United States of America and a Deputy Director-General, Department of Asian Affairs of the MFA.

Photo Credit: Chinese Embassy in the Philippines

China Refuses to Quit on the Philippines

by Derek Grossman*

25 July 2020

When the Filipino people elected Rodrigo Duterte to become their next president in May 2016, China saw a distinct opportunity to pull the longtime U.S. ally away from Washington and into Beijing’s strategic orbit. Avowedly anti-American, President Duterte on his first trip to Beijing in October 2016 exclaimed that it was “time to say goodbye to Washington” — much to the delight of his host, Chinese President Xi Jinping, and other Chinese leaders.

In subsequent years, China pledged to invest in the Philippines through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and to cooperate on achieving “joint exploration” of disputed waters in the South China Sea. However, Filipino mismanagement of the BRI and the inability of the two sides to see past their sovereignty disputes to conduct joint exploration left question marks hanging over the direction of bilateral ties. 

Read more.

*Derek Grossman is a senior defense analyst at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation, an adjunct professor at the University of Southern California, and a regular contributor to The Diplomat. He formerly served as the daily intelligence briefer to the assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs at the Pentagon.

This piece originally appeared at The Diplomat on 22 July 2020. Also appeared at the RAND on the same day.

Photo Credit: Mark Cristino/Reuters as used by RAND.

Hurdling the Adverse State-Civil Society Relation Against Terrorism in Southeast Asia

by Rizal G. Buendia*

22 July 2020

Introduction

In the United Nations (UN) Security Council’s meeting in April 2020, UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres acknowledged that in spite of the current COVID-19 pandemic, “the threat of terrorism remains alive.” Terrorist groups see a “window of opportunity” to violently attack governments while their attention is turned towards addressing the pandemic. Likewise, in the opening of the 2020 virtual Counter Terrorism Week in July 2020, Guterres states that the pandemic has highlighted the use of “new and emerging forms of terrorism, such as misuse of digital technology, cyberattacks and bioterrorism,” hence calls for vigilance.

Evidence from the ground had shown that terrorism in all its forms and manifestations is real and serious. The European Union’s (EU) Counter-terrorism Coordinator, Giles de Kerchove, says in a confidential briefing to EU member states that terrorists and Islamic militants seek to exploit the crises to “change societies and governmental systems through violence.” Meanwhile, Norway’s top military official in Iraq confirms that attacks by Islamic State in the Middle East are on the rise as the region grapples with the pandemic.

The situation in Southeast Asia is not much different. Between February and March 2020, the International Police (INTERPOL) led an operation of law enforcers coming from Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines (BIMP)  that resulted in the arrest of 180 individuals suspected to be members of terrorist groups including the Abu Sayyaf Group. Captured with the suspects were high-powered firearms, illegally assembled explosives, and illicit goods. The operation also rescued 130 human trafficking victims. The operation confirmed that COVID-19 pandemic has not stopped terrorist and organized crime groups from carrying out their activities.

Terrorism continue to be a global challenge in spite of the global health crisis. It is real and serious. Islamic militants and far right-wing extremists have been emboldened to pursue their activities as governments have concentrated their efforts in addressing the pandemic in their own national domain.

Given this predicament, UN Secretary-General Guterres suggested in his address on the Counter-Terrorism Week that one of the key counter-measures in resolving terrorism is the vital participation of “civil society representatives,  the private sector, women and young people” not only in preventing terrorism but also in “building (an) inclusive and resilient societies.”

Civil society organizations (CSOs) and terrorism

Generally, civil society is associated primarily with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or groups, and charities. It is oftentimes referred to as the civic or “third,” community, and non-profit sector, in contradistinction to public (government) and private sectors. It consists usually of a range of voluntary associations including political parties, trade unions and professional bodies, private foundations, educational and research institutions and think tanks, religious, faith‐based, and community‐based organizations, and women’s, human rights, social and environmental groups working on a definite and defined interest and aspiration of a particular sector of society but operating outside of governmental and private (commercial and for-profit) sectors or spheres.

As early as 2006, the UN has already recognized the role of CSOs in mitigating terrorism through the General Assembly’s adoption of the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy (Resolution 60/288) (UNGA 2006a). The Strategy affirms the determination of UN member states to “further encourage non-governmental organizations and civil society to engage, as appropriate, on how to enhance efforts to implement the Strategy” (UNGA 2006 par 3[e]). The vital role of non-governmental and civil society organizations (NGOs/CSOs) in the global strategy against terrorism has likewise been highlighted by then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in his April 2006 report entitled “Uniting against Terrorism: Recommendations for a Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy”. (UNGA 2006b A60/825).

In Southeast Asia, its regional organization, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), had recognized the role of CSOs in abating terrorism only in 2017 on the occasion of the 31st ASEAN Summit. It endorsed the Manila Declaration to Counter the Rise of Radicalization and Violent Extremism . The Declaration was further adopted at the 11th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Transnational Crime (hereinafter referred to as the AMMTC) as ASEAN Comprehensive Plan of Action on Counter Terrorism . The Plan of Action (POA) was elaborated at the 12th AMMTC  in 2018 and updated at the 13th AMMTC  in 2019 to cover up to 2025.

The late recognition of the CSOs in addressing terrorism lies on the peculiar characteristics of CSOs in the region as well as the lukewarm appreciation of the state on CSOs’ potential, capability, and key role in resolving terrorism.

Peculiarities of civil society in Southeast Asia (SEA)

Southeast Asia’s diversity in terms of state system, type of regime, societal structure, stage of economic development, cultural framework, and breadth and depth of peoples’ activism, makes the region an excellent case in which to interrogate the scope and limits as well as ascertain the quality of civil society. Understanding civil society in Southeast Asia would give us a better appreciation how it would be able to contribute in mitigating if not eradicating the roots of terrorism in the region.

Unlike in Europe or in North America where civil society is highly distinguishable from the state, civil society in Southeast Asia is less distinct. Schak and Hudson (2003) argue that the dividing line between the spheres of civil society on one hand and public and private sectors on the other hand in Asia is blurred; the state plays a central, if not domineering role, in the formation and establishment of CSOs. They are not just autonomous non-state voluntary organizations but intricately intertwined with the power and function of the state. The independence of CSOs from the state is therefore dubious.

Johan Saravanamuttu (1997), using his survey of civil societies across the region, declares that CSOs are weak compared to the power of the state because they “have had their incipient features shaped primarily by the economic milieu engendered by a dominant state structure,” rather than having grown organically out of politics (p. 2). Ben Kerkvliet (2003) says that while there are several budding and emerging CSOs in Vietnam, they continue to be highly constrained by the state. In spite of their peaceful advocacies for reforms in government institutions, laws, and communication and media, they are not allowed to criticize Communist Party leaders or officials, the military, and national policies, and thus cannot be unreservedly “political” lest they lose what space they have (pp. 15-16).

David Brown and David Martin Jones (1995) avow that the dominant party regime in Singapore has effectively restrained the political participation and free exchange of ideas among the middle class. This renders the process of democratization in illiberal democratic Singapore “the expansion of political participation and consultation within the limits defined by the state” rather than the project of an adversarial civil society. (p. 84; also in Jones and Brown 1994). In a later study of Jones (1998), he finds out that a “modular civil society” – one premised on the differentiation of political and socioeconomic spheres – is not emerging in the region but a “political change reflects a conservative, managerial strategy to amplify political control by forging a new relationship with an arriviste middle class (p. 163).

The proliferation of NGOs since the 1980s until late 1990s in Malaysia allowed them to perform a central role in both electoral and informal politics. The active participation of NGOs in politics outside the state pressured the latter to open a wider democratic space notwithstanding the presence of institutional constraints that inhibit the promotion of human rights and advancement of the rule of law – less independent judiciary, controlled media, and employment of the Internal Security Act (ISA), among others.

Francis Loh (2003) argues that Malaysians disillusioned with political parties and electoral politics precipitated CSOs to engage in informal politics. The political mobilization of CSOs did not only offer the venues for participation outside the channels of electoral politics, but also permit them to work with opposition political parties that eventually helped “to enrich those parties as well as hasten the process of political reform” (see also Weiss 2006). However, Saliha Hassan (2002) warns that NGOs need to beware of both exclusionary tendencies and state co-optation to enjoy the expanding space for democratic participation,

Gerard Clarke’s (1998) in-depth study of the Philippines notes that NGOs both strengthen and weaken civil society. He illustrates how state-civil society collaboration fortifies the state and expands civil society political participation. His study shows that civil society is less concerned with its autonomy from the state when they can achieve their objectives through a strategic alliance with the state.

Indonesia, according to Robert Hefner (2000), is as an Islamic state that supports “democracy, voluntarism, and a balance of countervailing powers in a state and society” (pp. 12-13). He notes the emergence of a Habermasian public sphere in Muslim Indonesia by highlighting “civil pluralist Islam.”

Overall, civil society in the region may not be so consistently a force for democratization or so staunchly independent of the state as most Western literature presumes, yet may still be an important space, among others, for political engagement and transformation. This recalibration of the concept “civil society” offers a clearer lens on the notion of civil society-state nexus in the region more generally.

Furthermore, Alagappa (2004) concludes, among others, in his volume Civil Society and Political Change in Asia that Asian civil societies bear features of both neo-Tocquevillian/liberal democratic (associational) and neo-Gramscian/New Left (cultural and ideological frames with the former gaining ascendancy as state institutions gain legitimacy.

Although there has been a proliferation of CSO, it has not resulted in the institutionalization of non-state public sphere. CSOs generally have yet to establish themselves as independent and autonomous entity from the state. While CSOs have checked the power of the state on the one hand, and influenced the political dynamics of communities on the other hand, interactions between these two spheres vary significantly in contemporary Southeast Asia.

The opportunities for civil society to engage or enter into partnership with government may be limited in countries where civil society structures are weak or non-existent and conversely, may be boundless in countries where civil society is robust and vigorous.

CSOs and state relations

Given the colonial history of Southeast Asian countries, except Thailand which served as a buffer state between the British and French empires, and difficulties encountered by leaders to building their nation-state after their respective independence owing to numerous rebel groups seeking power, relationship between state and civil society is tainted with mistrust. Many governments are deeply suspicious of civil society, and would actively resist any national or international effort to boost its power relative to the state.    

Sumpter (2018) opines that security forces engaged with counterterrorism are not accustomed to working with community stakeholders and civil society organisations. This predicament results in a poor engagement between civil society and state. Cooperation, co-ordination, and exchange of information related to terrorism between civil society and government cannot materialize in a hostile environment. It was even accounted that a number of CSOs in Indonesia having CVE programmes are not being coordinated nor harmonized with the efforts of the state, hence lead to wastage of resources.

The dilemma in establishing a working relationship between civil society and state is compounded when one operates in a less democratic and less politically open society, in an authoritarian or anocratic states. In such situation, radicalization is not atomized but open and widespread — deepening the conflict between contending forces and widening the fissures of society amid parties, ethnicities, social groups, and ideologies.

The inability of autocratic and anocratic regimes in SEA to accommodate civil society or provide CSOs reasonable democratic space to engage in socio-economic activities and political reform endeavours on the notion that they threaten the stability of the state does not rest on any material basis. Gnanasagaran (2018) says that there is a disconnect between the state and CSOs. He cites that in 2016, under Lao PDR’s chairmanship of ASEAN, Vientiane refused to host the ASEAN People’s Forum (APF).

Tadem argues that from 2005 to 2015, individual ASEAN states have consistently resisted CSO participation and engagement in ASEAN critical issues, including terrorism. Despite the rhetorical emphasis on participatory regionalism, Allison and Taylor (2016) contend that regional CSOs and non-state actors have limited capacity to influence ASEAN.

Generally, Southeast Asian political elites have restrictive attitude towards CSOs as the latter speak out against human rights abuses, demand resolution of local grievances, and clamour for social justice. However, it has been an established fact that restricting CSOs from undertaking their legitimate functions simply exacerbate the risk of future terror. Jeong-Woo and Murdie (2018) study yielded no evidence proving that legal restrictions on civil society diminish the number of terrorist attacks within the country.

Greer and Watson (2016) claim that traditional “retributive” anti-terror approaches — which include military/police action and legal imprisonment – though urgently needed, “aggrieve or isolate populations vulnerable to radicalization.” They claim that “retributive approaches do little to reduce recidivism rates or disrupt the underlying cycles of anger and grievance central to radicalization.”

            Singapore’s multi-stakeholder collaboration and grassroots approach, despite a less democratic society, is worth mentioning. Its Religious Rehabilitation Group  is a voluntary group of ulama and asatizah (Islamic scholars and teachers) in Singapore, has been deemed successful in countering extremism through “restorative” approach. Its mission is to restore and rectify the “misinterpretation” of Islamic concepts and disrupt or counter the narratives assumed central to radicalization. It works within the “hearts-and-minds strategies which aims at understanding one’s personal motivations and refocussing them to a more constructive venture.

Similarly, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiya, two of Indonesia’s largest Muslim civil societies, launched programs to counteract Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) narratives. Following the January 2015 Indonesian terror attacks, NU denounced ISIS through the social media under the hashtag #KamiTidakTakut (#WeAreNotAfraid).

Conclusion

It is important to understand that civil society engagement is about participation and partnership with the state.  Contracting an institutional relationship, either formal or informal, with the state is complementary, not a rival, to parliamentary democracy or representative democracy. Citizen participation carries its own legitimacy; it does not need to borrow its legitimacy from representation, not even to any institutions or instrumentalities of government. Its legitimacy emanates from what it does.

The legitimacy of CSOs and their networks are bolstered by the validity and integrity of their ideas, by the values and interests they promote, and by the issues and programmes they care about. CSOs provide the platform and channel to variegated voices of social groups and causes of marginalized sectors which the state needs to hear and act upon. Rosand (2009) moreover imparts that CSOs can promote a culture of tolerance and pluralism and play a strategic role in protecting local communities, countering extremist ideologies, and dealing with political violence.

CSOs are important to every society, regardless of regime and state system not only because they reflect peoples’ concern but also due to their potential of filling in the imperatives of socio-economic and political development. And through them society can get things done better either by offering an alternative system of delivering public goods and services or providing unorthodox strategies in achieving development goals and objectives.

CSOs are not only effective agents and facilitators of change agents but also effective institutions in mitigating politico-cultural exclusion and socio-economic marginalization of the poor.  Although CSOs are neither elected, thus not accountable to the electorate, nor have any contractual relationship with the governed and cannot claim any form of representation, their limitations constitute a comparative advantage since their sense of virtual independence, in whatever manner or form give them relative freedom, flexibility, and space imperative in national and good governance.

References

Alagappa, M. (2004). Civil Society and Political Change: An Analytical Framework. In: M. Alagappa, M. (Ed.), Civil Society and Political Change in Asia: Expanding and Contracting Democratic Space (pp. 25-60)California: Stanford University Press.

Brown, D. and Jones, D.M. (1995), Democratization and the Myth of the Liberalizing Middle Classes.  In: D. Bell, D. Brown, K. Jayasuriya, and D.M. Jones Towards Illiberal Democracy in Pacific Asia (pp 78-106). London: Macmillan Press Ltd.

Clarke, G. (1998). The Politics of NGOs in South-East Asia: Participation and Protest in the Philippines. New York: Routledge.

Hassan, S. (2002). Political Non-governmental Organizations: Ideals and Realities. In F. Loh and K.B. Teik (Eds), Democracy in Malaysia: Discourses and Practices. (pp.198- 215). USA: Routledge.

Hefner, R. (2000). Civil Islam: Muslims and Democratization in Indonesia. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Jones, D.M. and D. Brown. (1994). Singapore and the Myth of the Liberalizing Middle Class. Pacific Review 7 (1), 79-87.

Jones, D.M. (1998). Democratization, Civil Society and Illiberal Middle-Class Culture in Pacific Asia. Comparative Politics 30 (2), 147-169.

Kerkvliet, B. (2003). Introduction: Grappling with Organizations and the State. In: Kerkvilet, B., Heng-Khng. R., and Koh, D. (Eds). Getting Organized in Vietnam: Moving in and Around the Socialist State. Singapore: ISEAS

Loh, F. (2003). NGO and Non-Electoral Politics. Aliran Monthly 22 (11), 2-9.

Rosand, Eric (2009). The Role of Civil Society in Counterterrorism. Presentation to the EU’s Counter-Terrorism Committee. 14 October.

Saravanamuttu, J. (1997) Transforming Civil Societies in ASEAN Countries (with special focus on Malaysia and Singapore). CIS Working Paper 1997-8, Centre for International Studies, University of Toronto.

Schak, D., and Hudson, W. (2003). Civil Society in Asia in D. Schak and W. Hudson (Eds). Civil Society in Asia. Hampshire, England and Burlington, USA: Ashgate.

United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) (2006a). The United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, Doc. A/RES/60/288, 8 September.

UNGA (2006b). Uniting against Terrorism: Recommendations for a Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy – Report of the Secretary-General, Doc. A/RES/60/825, 27April.

*The author holds a PhD in Political Science. He is an independent Political Analyst in Southeast Asian PoliticsWales, UK

This piece is also published in Eurasia Review.

Photo Credit: As used in Eurasia Review.

China-Philippines Ties See Transformation and Upgrading Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

By Huang Xilian*

21 July 2020

Highlights

When #COVID-19 vaccine is developed and put into use, #China will give priority to providing it to the #Philippines as a global public good.

As the resumption of work and production proceeds in an orderly manner, there will be more #Chinese cooperative projects in the #Philippines in the future, which will provide strong impetus to the local economic recovery and improvement of people’s livelihood in the Philippines.

The year 2020 marks the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and the Philippines. The year also witnessed the profound friendship between our two countries in our common battle against the COVID-19 pandemic that has swept the world.

In the fight against the pandemic, China and the Philippines have forged closer partnership through anti-COVID-19 cooperation, setting a good example for international cooperation.

At present, both countries are making every effort to accelerate the work resumption and help the public resume their lives back to normal.

At the same time, we are continuing to synergize the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) with the Philippines’ “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program, and steadily carry out major cooperation projects in infrastructure construction to further consolidate and upgrade China-Philippines relations.

Ensure a smooth flow of essential business people and goods

As the most serious global crisis since the WWII, the pandemic has had a far-reaching impact on the economic development of countries including China and the Philippines from both ends of demand and supply with people travelling restricted, global production and supply chain disrupted.

Faced with the severe challenges brought about by the pandemic, China curbed the spread of virus rapidly and took the lead in driving to the resumption of business and production. At the same time, China takes the BRI as the most important platform to strengthen dialogue and  cooperation with the Philippines and other countries along the route. China and the Philippines have been negotiating on the establishment of the “fast track” for two-way essential travel and a “green channel” for   smooth flow of goods to ensure the stability of the industrial and supply chains.

Thanks to the joint efforts of China and the Philippines, the BRI has given full play in terms of creating vitality and opportunities to bilateral economic and trade exchanges.

According to the Chinese statistics, bilateral trade reached $19.37 billion dollars in the first five months of this year, and China remains the largest trading partner of the Philippines. China’s direct investment in the Philippines reached $18.25 million, up 82.5 percent year-on-year.

Deepen health cooperation for public health and safety

Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, China, the Philippines and other BRI partners have accelerated their cooperation in the field of public health, and are committed to building a “Health Silk Road” and a community of common health for mankind.

Since the outbreak, the Philippines has provided valuable support to China and China is also working through various channels to fully support the Philippines’ resistance to the virus, including the timely dispatch of experienced medical experts to Philippines and providing medical materials to the country.

Up to now, the Chinese government has provided the Philippines with a total of 252,000 testing reagents, 130 ventilators, 1.87 million medical masks, protective suits, goggles and other epidemic prevention materials.

A large number of Chinese local governments, enterprises and civil groups donated tens of millions sets of PPEs and other medical supplies to different local governments, hospitals of the Philippines.

When the COVID-19 vaccine is developed and put into use, China will give priority to providing it to the Philippines, as a global public good.

Promote connectivity for economic and social recovery

Under the guidance of the memorandum of understanding on jointly promoting the BRI, China has strengthened coordination between the BRI and the Philippines’ “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program, through which we have coordinated epidemic prevention and control, resumed work and production, and promoted the construction of key cooperation projects in the Philippines in an orderly manner, helping stabilize the local economy, ensuring employment and improving people’s livelihood in the country.

Steady progress has been made in key projects of Chinese assistance, such as the two bridges over the Pasig river in Manila and the Philippine National Railways South Long-Haul Project.

Meanwhile, the Philippines’ third telecommunication carrier the DITO in which Chinese telecommunications companies have participated, and has now come to the stage of full construction.

In the first five months of this year, newly signed contracts for Chinese projects in the Philippines amounted to $3.11 billion, up 29.5 percent year-on-year, and completed turnover of $970 million, up 13.2 percent year-on-year.

As the resumption of work and production proceeds in an orderly manner, there will be more Chinese financed projects in the Philippines, which will inject strong impetus to the local economic recovery and improvement of people’s livelihood.

Expand cooperation for sustainable growth

During the pandemic, new industries and business modes have emerged, creating new lifestyles such as working-from-home, telecommuting and e-commerce etc.

Companies from China and the Philippines have made active use of the “Silk Road e-commerce” platform to give full play to the advantages of cross-border e-commerce and work hard to cope with the challenges brought by the pandemic to cross-border trade and investment.

As regular epidemic prevention and control worldwide has become the new norm, China will actively explore with the Philippines to strengthen  cooperation in e-commerce, 5G, big data, AI and cloud computing. By building a “Digital Silk Road” and a “Green Silk Road”, we can not only promote the economic recovery on the basis of transformation and upgrading, but also achieve a high-quality sustainable development, benefiting our two peoples.

*The author is currently the Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines. Thus far, he worked with China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) for 30 years. He also served as China’s Ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).  Read more.

This article is published courtesy of the Chinese Embassy in the Philippines. Photo Credit: Chinese Embassy in the Philippines.

Strategy of a Small State with Great Powers: The Philippines Amidst US-China Rivalry in the South China Sea

by Rommel C. Banlaoi, PhD*

9 July 2020

Security tensions in the South China Sea are rising again due to escalating major power rivalry between the United States and China.  The US and China have increased their military presence in the South China by sending their warships to conduct air-sea battle exercises while the whole world continues to struggle against the scourge of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Two American aircraft carriers, USS Nimitz and the USS Ronald Reagan, started its military drills in the South China Sea on 4 July 2020 during the commemoration of American Independence Day.  The US government regards those exercises as part of its commitment of “standing up for the right of all nations to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows”.

China, on the other hand, just concluded on 5 July 2020 its military exercises near the Paracel Islands “to counter the US” and to push back against Pentagon for having “ulterior motives” in sending two aircraft carriers in the South China Sea. 

These military exercises of competing major powers have heated up tensions in the South China Sea as both up the ante of its military activities in the contested maritime domain that is considered to be one of the major flashpoints of armed conflicts in Asia where the two major powers can collide.  In fact, those military exercises were so proximate making US Rear Admiral James Kirk on the Nimitz to comment, “they have seen us and we have seen them”.

Prior to these military exercises, the Philippine government, through Secretary Teodoro Locsin of the Department of Foreign Affairs, issued a strong statement on 3 July 2020 expressing concerns over China’s drills.  Locsin stressed that the Philippines would “severely” respond if China would encroach on Philippine territories. Locsin exclaimed, “Should the exercises spill over to Philippine territory, then China is forewarned that it will be met with the severest response, diplomatic and whatever else is appropriate.” 

China concluded its military drills without untoward incident. 

But the growing major power rivalry between China and the US in the South China Sea has raised a big question if the Philippines is pushing back against China and is shifting back to the US as its only military ally considering that Manila has earlier suspended the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).  How will this new situation affect the Philippines’ “comprehensive strategic cooperation” with China?  Is President Rodrigo Duterte flip-flopping again in its foreign policy amidst US-China rivalry in the South China Sea?  

Some are quick to conclude that Duterte is flip-flopping in the guise of pursuing an independent foreign policy.   

But what is not fully understood is the fact the Philippine government has been applying the grand strategies of small states in dealing with great powers within an anarchic international system.    

Small states and great powers have different survival instincts amidst international anarchy.  Realist theory of international relations contends that great powers seek their survival by balancing each other.  But small states, by virtue of their inherent vulnerability in the anarchic international system, find their survival by forging relationships with great powers balancing each other. Because of their inherent vulnerable situation, small states pursue relationships with great powers depending on the situation.  Small states respond to situations according to their own national interests and not the interests of major powers in competition.

The Philippine government is pushing back against China in the South China Sea because of the current situation that threatens Manila’s security interests.  China’s recent military activities in the South China Sea, particularly around the waters of the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) in the Spratlys, are causing security anxieties in the Philippines.  There is a tendency for the Philippine government to cling with the US to address common security interests as the US continues to be the only security ally of the Philippines that can effectively balance China.   

When the situation is calm in the South China Sea and Manila’s security interests are not compromised, the Philippines has a tendency to shift its gear towards China being a close giant neighbor for centuries.  The Philippine government continues to have an interest to pursue a comprehensive strategic cooperation with China for economic purposes.   

The Philippine government has economic needs that China can provide.  But the Philippine government also has security needs that the US can provide.  If China can allay Manila’s current fear of the situation in the KIG and can provide Manila’s current security needs in the South China Sea, the Philippines will find no reason to reach out its only security ally, the US, as this alliance always reminds the Philippines of its colonial experiences.  But the Philippines government is compelled to pivot back to the US because the current situation dictates so.

In 1991, the Philippine government terminated the US-Philippines Military Bases Agreement because of the post-cold war situation.  When China established full control of the Mischief Reef in 1995, the Philippines invited the US back by signing the VFA that came into force in 1999.  The VFA became very useful in the aftermath of September 11, 2001  (9/11) terrorist attacks as both countries cooperated in the global war on terrorism.  

Meanwhile, the South China Sea enjoyed a calm moment in 2002 when China and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) signed the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. But when the Philippine government withdrew its troops from Iraq in 2004, the US became lukewarm to the Philippines encouraging Manila to pursue “comprehensive engagement” with China.  In 2005, the Philippines and China enjoyed the “golden years” of their bilateral ties with the dismay of the US.

In 2009, the situation went wrong in the South China Sea.  China became more assertive legally and military that renewed security tensions in the area.  Legally, China submitted to the United Nations on 7 May 2009 a map of its nine-dash line claim in the South China Sea.  Militarily, China fortified its military structures in its occupied areas in the Spratlys and Paracels.   This situation encouraged the Philippines to deal with the US again.

When China occupied the Scarborough Shoal in 2012, the Philippines filed an arbitration case against China in 2013.  The arbitration case led the deterioration of Philippines-China relations reaching its lowest moment in its recent bilateral history.  The arbitration case, however, motivated China to pursue land reclamation activities, which led to the building of artificial islands in seven geographic features in the Spratlys.  Under this situation, the Philippines signed the Enhance Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the US in 2014. 

The situation changed in 2016.  The International Arbitral Tribunal made its landmark decisions in favor of the Philippines.  The Philippines under Duterte who had personal animosity against the US, decided to pursue a paradigm shift to China. 

The Philippines and China have started to enjoy a new era of closer friendship under Duterte who described his relationship with China like the blooming of a big and beautiful flower.    Duterte’s policy of paradigm shift to China ushered in the new age of cooperation between the two countries. Duterte even threatened to separate with the US.  

When President XI Jingping visited the Philippines in 2018, the two countries declared their comprehensive strategic cooperation to have an all around relationship, which is a rapid turn-around in their bilateral ties. They celebrated another golden age of their bilateral ties during this visit. The Philippines and China signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to facilitate their joint cooperation on the development of oil and gas resources in the South China Sea, particularly in areas being claimed by the Philippines called West Philippine Sea (WPS). 

Situations were going very well in the Philippines-China relations.  Under President Xi Jing Ping and President Duterte, the Philippines and China enjoyed the highest moment of their bilateral relations. Both countries even established the Bilateral Consultative Mechanism in the South China Sea to promote peace, friendship and cooperation.

But the COVID-19 pandemic altered the security situation in the South China Sea as a result of China’s continuing assertion of sovereignty.  The Philippines and its neighbors have also expressed their security anxieties on the current situation.  Again, the Philippines government needs to to pivot to the US.

In other words, situation in the South China Sea greatly affects Philippine foreign policy towards China and the United States.  When the security situation is tense, the Philippine government embraces the US.  When the security situation is calm, the Philippine government engages China. 

The Philippine government is just applying the grand strategy of small states when dealing with major powers.

*Rommel C. Banlaoi, PhD, is a Professorial Lecturer at the Department of International Studies, Miriam College.  He is also the President of the Philippine Association for Chinese Studies (PACS), President of the Philippine Society for Intelligence and Security Studies (PSISS), and the Chairman of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research (PIPVTR).

This piece was delivered during the online forum, “Geopolitical Rivalry in South Asia and Southeast Asia” organized by Nepal Institute for International Cooperation and Engagement and University of Malaya Institute of Chinese Studies on 9 July 2020. Watch webinar here: or here.

This piece is also published in Eurasia Review and ICAS Bulletin.

Photo Credit: From the author during his latest visit to Pag-Asa island.

Anti-Terrorism Law of 2020: The Urgent Need for Gender-Sensitive Counterterrorism Measures in the Philippines

by Mary Ysabelle Samantha A. Chikiamco*

8 July 2020

Law enforcement authorities stereotypically portray terrorist fighters as weapons-carrying men who are always on the frontlines. They regard women, on the other hand, as passive members, blind supporters, or unfortunate victims of terrorist organizations who are always on the sidelines.

This mindset is sadly reinforcing gender-biased counterterrorism policies that utterly neglect women’s experiences, roles, and difficulties in acts of terrorism and other factors behind their engagement or participation in terrorist activities.

Current government policies also perpetuate gender insensitive ideas that always picture men as main targets of terrorist groups and that men are the main actors of violent extremism. This lack of gender sensitivity perpetuates prejudiced government approaches, efforts, and strategies in preventing and countering terrorism.

With terrorist threats and attacks intensifying within the Philippine territory, specifically in Mindanao, it is necessary to enhance our counterterrorism measures that addresses all challenges that terrorism poses to both women and men.

Focusing on the gendered effects of terrorism means recognizing and understanding that individuals are not equally capable of recovering from violent attacks and are not equally at risk. Both men and women have served in several positions in terrorist groups. Because women are less likely to stir up suspicion, our policies have not been built to recognize or acknowledge their involvement or motivations in terrorist activities.

Sadly, the counterterrorism laws and policies that the Philippine government has enacted over the past years have not been sensitive to the needs, experiences, roles, and rights of women.

For instance, the Human Security Act of 2007 describes women as being under the most vulnerable groups needing the utmost protection.  The Anti-Terrorism Law of 2020, which repeals the Human Security Act of 2007, reiterates and even reproduces this traditional and stereotypical portrayal of women in Philippine counterterrorism measures. It is also disappointing to note that in the new anti-terrorism law, the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women is not included in the identified support agencies of the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC), the main office in charge of implementing government policies in counterterrorism.

Apparently, existing counterterrorism measures have failed to deeply recognize the complex gender dynamics of terrorism, which regards women as capable players to be directly engaged in terrorist activities. The Jolo Cathedral suicide bombing on 27 January 2019 and the Indanan suicide bombing on 8 September 2019 were just examples of many cases proving women’s capabilities to also engage in various acts of terrorism identified in the new Philippine Anti-Terrorism Law.

When Philippine policies and legislations recognize the diversities of women’s roles in terrorism, it will open innovative doors to pursue gender-sensitive measures in counterterrorism. Pursuing counterterrorism laws and measures with gender perspectives can become an important starting point in addressing the root causes of terrorism and violent extremism.

However, we should also go beyond the analysis of texts in the current policies and measures because decision-making, leadership, empowerment, and participation of women are also significant key components.

There is evidently still a huge gap between the decision-making powers of men compared to that of women, thereby generating decisions and policies based predominantly on men’s perspective. This gap is seen in how differently men perceive the challenges and experiences of women and how the direction and framework we are building are the complete opposite of how women experience and see things.

Hence, promoting the active participation of women in decision-making regarding security measures and counterterrorism efforts would allow for essential feedbacks to generate deeper and more compendious gender analysis regarding our current laws and policies on counterterrorism.

It is critical that women engage in the development of counterterrorism frameworks to guarantee that their views and perspectives are taken into account and their contributions and efforts are given utmost attention if not priority.

Women’s reasons, experiences, challenges, and needs concerning terrorism and extremism are equally significant to that of men. Threats of terrorism and challenges of violent extremism would be better understood and addressed by looking at the standpoint of both genders.

More importantly, recognizing that women’s roles are multifaceted can allow advances in women’s positions and participation that can increase the probability of success and effectiveness in counterterrorism.

Over the past years, the Philippines has convicted terrorists, prevented terrorist attacks, responded through military interventions, and introduced protective measures to mitigate and counter violent extremism and terrorism. However, the slow and limited results of success and effectiveness in the country’s counterterrorism measures may be due to the gender imbalances and gaps within the context of counterterrorism policy frameworks and strategies.

Therefore, including women in the conversation and decision-making process would empower them and give them an equal opportunity to contribute to creating a clearer lens for ensuring that gender issues in preventing and countering terrorism are systematically identified.

But, for this implementation to become possible and more effective, the Philippines’ counterterrorism efforts should also go beyond military strategies and move towards gender-sensitive security measures that focus on human welfares, rights, aspirations, and roles of both perpetrators and victims of terrorism.

To broadly understand how diverse sexual orientation or gender identity can operate within the sphere of counterterrorism in the Philippines, policy-makers, political and security analysts, and leaders need to open its doors to changes in its policies and efforts in order to build comprehensive frameworks that incorporate gender perspectives and narratives. Counterterrorism laws, policies, and measures must become more sensitive to the capacities, needs, and roles of both men and women in order to remove all gender-stereotypes and the over-representation of just one gender.

The empowerment of women and the promotion of gender equality are corrective measures to perennial threats of violent extremism and terrorism. Thus, aside from reviewing or revising the provisions of Anti-Terrorism Law of 2020 in order to make it more gender-sensitive including the eventual implementation of its planned rules and regulations guided by the rule of law, the Department of Justice and the ATC should also bear in mind that gender truly matters in counterterrorism.

* The author is a senior student taking up BA International Studies at Miriam College, the Philippines.  She wrote this piece as part of her internship requirements at the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research (PIPVTR).

This is piece is also published in Eurasia Review and FBI Reform.

Photo Credit: Cici Rezky Fantasy Rullie, said to be around 18, is believed to be the daughter of the Indonesian couple who bombed Jolo Cathedral in January 2019. Cici is seen here engaging in a shootout with the military. Image courtesy of Rappler-sourced video screengrab. Philippines, 2019. Source: Women of the Eastern Caliphate Part 1: Hiding in Plain Sight by Anna Santos and Nikki Dizon. Read more.