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The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) Threat from a Philippine Perspective

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The Pentagon has estimated over 1,000 ISIS fighters have been recruited from Australia, India and the Asia Pacific region. What draws these fighters from this region to ISIS? How could these governments have borne greater responsibility in preventing their enlistment? extremisms before any long-term benefit may be derived. In the mid-2000s, Al-Qaeda’s influence grew beyond Afghanistan into the Philippines through groups such as Abu Sayaff and Jemaah Islamiyah. Today, Abu Sayaff is experiencing resurgence in the Philippines and pledged allegiance to ISIS. What threat do returning fighters pose to the Philippines and ASEAN countries? According to media reports, the ISIS has access to oil resources that finance their terrorist activities. The men who make up ISIS are also technologically savvy. It is said that they attract the youth by using social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Because of their access to huge sums of money, they can use their resources to lure young men and women to join their ranks. Indeed, the ISIS’ cutting-edge propaganda through social media is a crucial element that must be countered effectively. Combating it using the same rules of the game may finally give the coalition success over the ISIS’ psychological war. However, we must note that propaganda is only one face of the security problem. It is equally important to stomp out the political and ideological roots of the ISIS’ extremisms before any long-term benefit may be derived. In the mid-2000s, Al-Qaeda’s influence grew beyond Afghanistan into the Philippines through groups such as Abu Sayaff and Jemaah Islamiyah. Today, Abu Sayaff is experiencing resurgence in the Philippines and pledged allegiance to ISIS. What threat do returning fighters pose to the Philippines and ASEAN countries? Definitiely, returning fighter pose a great threat to the Philippines and the rest of ASEAN – particularly if their needs or aspirations are not attended to as soon as they arise. That was how the current ISIS started. Apparently, they were a group of returning fighters who found themselves out of work and disenfranchised after the previous administration of Iraq took over the presidency. Returning fighters who are jobless and who have mouths to feed but don’t have the resources to feed those mouths can always think about destabilizing the country – even if it is only to call attention to their situation. The most important thing to do after fighters return to their own countries is to find an opportunity to debrief them and attend to their needs. Given the legacy of military operations since 2002, are the Philippines better equipped to mitigate the threat posed by these domestic and international militant groups in the future? Yes, I believe so. There definitely is some improvement in the Philippines’ capacity to mitigate threats if not to meet them head-on in terms of equipment and capacity/know-how. The Philippines is partnering with several countries on mutual defense cooperation, particularly the United States. And, through frequent joint military exercise, the Philippines’ defense forces are becoming better equipped, particularly in terms of skill and capacity to mitigate the threat posed by domestic and militant groups now and in the future. The Philippines has also established bilateral and multilateral agreements with other countries, particularly among its neighbors in Southeast Asia, to share and exchange information, training and coordination on counter-terrorism efforts. Another way that the Philippine Government has mitigated the threat posed by militant groups is through coming to terms with the Muslim groups in the Philippines with the signing of the Bangsamoro Framework Agreements and its Annexes. These provide for wealth and power sharing. The final outcome - a comprehensive agreement – is a major step toward a lasting resolution of the national divide between the Philippine Government and the Muslims of the South, whi
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  The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) Threat from a Philippine Perspective Guest: H.E. Olivia V. Palala Published: October 18, 2014 The Pentagon has estimated over 1,000 ISIS fighters  have been recruited from Australia,   India and the Asia Pacific region. What draws these fighters from this region to ISIS? How could these governments have borne greater responsibility in preventing their enlistment?   According to media reports, the ISIS has access to oil resources that finance their terrorist activities. The men who make up ISIS are also technologically savvy. It is said that they attract the youth by using social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Because of their access to huge sums of money, they can use their resources to lure young men and women to join their ranks. Indeed, the ISIS’ cutting-edge propaganda through social media is a crucial element that must be countered effectively. Combating it using the same rules of the game may finally give the coalition success over the ISIS’ psychological war. However, we must note that propaganda is only one face of the security problem. It is equally important to stomp out the political and ideological roots of the ISIS’ extremisms before any long-term benefit may be derived. In the mid-2000s, Al-Qaeda’s influence grew beyond Afghanistan into the Philippines through groups such as Abu Sayaff and Jemaah Islamiyah. Today, Abu Sayaff is experiencing resurgence  in the Philippines   and pledged allegiance to ISIS. What threat do returning fighters pose to the Philippines and ASEAN countries? Definitely, returning fighters pose a great threat to the Philippines and the rest of ASEAN – particularly if their needs or aspirations are not attended to as soon as they arise. That was how the current ISIS started. Apparently, they were a group of returning fighters who found themselves out of work and disenfranchised after the previous administration of Iraq took over the presidency. Returning fighters who are jobless and who have mouths to feed but don’t have the resources to feed those mouths can always think about destabilizing the country – even if it is only to call attention to their situation. The most important thing to do after fighters return to their own countries is to find an opportunity to debrief them and attend to their needs. Olivia V. Palala is the Philippine Ambassador to Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and State of Palestine   Interviews “Definitely, returning fighters pose a great threat to the Philippines  and the rest of ASEAN –  particularly if their  needs or aspirations are  not attended to as soon  as they arise.”     Pacific Islands Society |  Interviews  | October 18, 2014 Given the legacy of military operations  since 2002, are the Philippines better equipped to mitigate the threat posed by these domestic and international militant groups in the future? Yes, I believe so. There definitely is some improvement in the Philippines’ capacity to mitigate threats if not to meet them head-on in terms of equipment and capacity/know-how. The Philippines is partnering with several countries on mutual defense cooperation, particularly the United States. And, through frequent joint military exercise, the Philippines’ defense forces are becoming better equipped, particularly in terms of skill and capacity to mitigate the threat posed by domestic and militant groups now and in the future. The Philippines has also established bilateral and multilateral agreements with other countries, particularly among its neighbors in Southeast Asia, to share and exchange information, training and coordination on counter-terrorism efforts. Another way that the Philippine Government has mitigated the threat posed by militant groups is through coming to terms with the Muslim groups in the Philippines with the signing of the Bangsamoro Framework Agreements and its Annexes. These provide for wealth and power sharing. The final outcome - a comprehensive agreement – is a major step toward a lasting resolution of the national divide between the Philippine Government and the Muslims of the South, which are collectively known as the Bangsmoro. Hopefully, because of this agreement, the Bangsmoro will be able to police themselves and avoid militancy among the several Muslim groups in southern Philippines. How has the long and historic experience of Islam indigenous to the Philippines affect the understanding of Islamic movements that have developed in the Middle East? First of all, I wish to clarify that the Muslims in the Philippines do not have a strong or clearly defined Sunni-Shia divide. They’re all Muslims. Though, if you ask the scholars among them, they would say that the Muslims in the Philippines are most Sunni – just like the majority of Muslims in Southeast Asia. Few people realize that many Muslims in the Philippines are not well ideologically grounded in the teachings of Islam. They can be very religious in observing the five pillars of Islam. They might be reading the Koran, particularly at prayer times. But, few can explain, for example, why there is a split among the Shias and the Sunnis in the Middle East. Unless they have undertaken religious studies, the majority of the Filipino Muslims simply memorize the verses of the Koran without a thorough understanding of the meaning of those verses because of their unfamiliarity with the Arabic language – in which the Koran is written. However, in recent times, religious organizations have actively promoted the teachings of Islam by publishing Tagalog and English versions of the Koran and the hadiths, which they give away for free. They also hold frequent dialogues on Islam and the Moro situation in Mindinao and put up Islamic radio programs and even TV shows. Thus, the sympathies of Muslims in the Philippines would generally still be with Muslims in the Middle East – regardless of the ideological backgrounds of those they sympathize with. How does the threat of ISIS in Iraq and Syria affect local Filipinos? If you mean the Filipinos residing in the Philippines, they are affected by the threat of ISIS in Iraq and Syria because they might have relatives working in these countries whose lives “Since the majority of the Filipinos, even while working in the Middle East,  are Christians, and since the ISIS is a very violent  group, there is always the danger of them being  kidnapped, tortured and  killed by members of this  radical group.”     Pacific Islands Society |  Interviews  | October 18, 2014 are put in danger. If, however, you mean the Filipinos who are now working and residing in any part of the Middle East region, the threat is even more real in their minds because they are so close to the areas in conflict. The instability / volatility of the entire region cause them much insecurity and affect their livelihood. Since the majority of the Filipinos, even while working in the Middle East  , are Christians, and since the ISIS is a very violent group, there is always the danger of them being kidnapped, tortured and killed by members of this radical group. Interviewer Keiko Ono is the Director of Development at the Pacific Islands Society Disclaimer T  he views expressed respectively are those of the interviewer and interviewee. © 2014 Pacific Islands Society | www.pacificislandssociety.org
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