September 12, 2019
TERRORISM is a complex issue. While there is no single driver, studies point to conflict as the main driver. Other contributing factors include social alienation, lack of economic opportunities, lack of good governance, and human rights issues. Terrorism literature also points to a variety of tactics to instill fear in a population and create a sense of insecurity in a target population, such as kidnappings, assassinations, sabotage and hijacking. Bombing remains the preferred tactic to inflict violence on non-combatants, as bombs are relatively easier to procure and achieves the maximum impact of sowing fear in the community. That the terrorists operate in small splinter groups adds to the complexity and challenge of addressing terrorism.
PH emerging terrorism hot spot
As a terrorist organization, the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) first gained notoriety in 1995, with the siege of Ipil, Zamboanga, that killed 11 civilians and razed the town center. More than two decades later, it remains a threat to the country’s national security; even more so when it declared allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, later simply IS) in 2014. With IS’ defeat in the Middle East, the next battleground is believed to be Southeast Asia. The Marawi siege in 2017 and intermittent bombing incidents in Mindanao earlier this year, reinforced IS’ reach in the country.
According to the Institute for Economics and Peace, the Philippines ranks 10th in the 2018 Global Terrorism Index (GTI). It is the only Southeast Asian country in its top 10, together with Afghanistan, Nigeria, Syria, Pakistan, Somalia, India, Yemen and Egypt. As an emerging hot spot of terrorism, the Philippines also ranks 8th among countries with highest increase in deaths due to terrorist incidents.
The United Nations Security Council has recognized the link between violent extremism and terrorism, and has underscored the need for collective efforts to prevent “radicalization, recruitment and mobilization of individuals into terrorist groups and becoming foreign terrorist fighters.” Some scholars posit that counter-terrorism measures and initiatives that take into account community policing to supplement intelligence-led policing, is crucial in preventing terrorism and countering violent extremism. Thus, the need for strengthened engagement with local communities.
According to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), community-oriented approach involves: 1) trust-based partnerships between communities and authorities; 2) community participation and support in formulating, implementing, and evaluation various strategies, measures, and policies; and 3) measures are undertaken to pursue community security rather than state security.
Traditional approaches to counter-terrorism focus on strengthening the critical security and technical infrastructure. However, there is a growing recognition among experts that the resilience of a community against adversities counteracts “the appeal of violent extremism and terrorism.” Thus, to achieve “community security,” there is the need to strengthen community involvement in the government’s efforts to counter terrorism and violent extremism.
Some scholars further argue that counter-terrorism measures are more effective when based on human rights, pursued through locally driven cooperative relationships, and designed to fit local contexts, including ethnic, cultural, and religious considerations. In this regard, building confidence and maintaining trust with the community is a crucial component.
Engaging communities may pose a challenge for communities with fraught history of mistrust. Thus, conducting dialogues with communities and civil society is necessary. It increases public awareness and understanding of the complexity and menace of terrorism and violent extremism. When counter-terrorism strategies are jointly developed, it helps reset strained relations, or deepen partnerships with the community. Such efforts also help identify vulnerable individuals, address early grievances, and improve understanding of communities at risk.
In this regard, the continuing efforts of the Philippine National Police’s (PNP) Directorate for Police Community Relations, through its “Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism (PCVE) Forum and Violent Extremism Awareness Program” is a step in the right direction.
Role of women. Women can play a significant role in preventing and countering terrorism and violent extremism, given their various capacities, as leaders in the community, and as a family member. They can provide a firsthand account of the changes in the behavior of family members, spot the beginnings of radicalism, and can prevent the spread of extremist ideology.
Youth programs. It is also important to provide programs focused on the Filipino youth, as they can be vulnerable to recruitment. There is a need to provide activities to prevent their disenfranchisement, as well as provide narratives that counter the terrorists’ propaganda, both in traditional spaces and in social media. The Filipino youth constitutes about 30 percent of the population — an untapped resource that can be a salient force in effecting change when empowered to realize their potential. Their idealism and energy can also be harnessed to contribute meaningfully to the development of society.
To this end, the role of the community is indeed critical in the government’s efforts in countering terrorism and violent extremism. Thus, it is important for all sectors to proactively and collectively work together. With a shared understanding of the perils of terrorism, and by supporting the security infrastructure’s efforts, the community can indeed be an effective partner in the fight against terrorism and extreme violence.
The author completed her master’s degree in public administration from Harvard Kennedy School, master’s in international relations (with merit) from Victoria University of Wellington, and BA in political science from the University of the Philippines-Diliman.
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