Duterte at 365 days: fixer-President

Jose C. Sison in his Philippine Star article Unity in uncertainty writes,

the lingering questions that remain unanswered in the minds of our countrymen especially in the affected areas, are: why no preemptive action was taken to prevent the siege? Why the members of terror groups were able to carry out their plan and infiltrate the city with seeming ease? Why Marawi City? Are there many sympathizers of the group there as would enable them to stage a rebellion or uprising that led to the declaration of martial law in Mindanao? Is there really a rebellion happening in Marawi City now?

Maybe if these questions are satisfactorily answered, our people will be more united in supporting the moves of this administration and in praying that the fighting in Marawi City will soon come to an end.

The answer doesn’t have to always come from Malacanan or those the people elect, rather it should first and foremost come from the governed as a result of doing their part as good citizens. If the masses of Filipinos only make an effort to read more and often, invest in a home library, or visit and support their local libraries instead of always holding unnecessary fiestas (every month or so!) and boozing themselves to death, we should’ve all known by now that

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is likely to create branches in the Philippines and Indonesia this year.

Although the Indonesian military pre-empted ISIS plans to declare a satellite state of the so-called caliphate in eastern Indonesia, ISIS is determined to declare at least one province in Asia in 2016.

The creation of training camps will lure not only South-east Asians but also other nationalities – from Australians to Chinese Uighurs – who cannot easily reach Syria. The nationalities trained in the new ISIS province, and seeking to carry out the ISIS vision, are likely to be a threat to their home countries.

Just this month, ISIS announced the unification of four battalions in the Philippines and the allegiance of their leaders to Baghdadi.

Ansarul Khilafah Philippines is the group that pledged allegiance to ISIS in August 2014. After it did so, it released a video threatening to deploy suicide bombers in the Philippines and make the country a “graveyard” for American soldiers. On two occasions, attempts by the group to transport weapons to Mujahidin Indonesia Timur were disrupted by the Philippine National Police working with their Indonesian counterparts.

Based in South Cotabato province, Sarangani province and General Santos City, Ansarul Khilafah Philippines is led by Abu Sharifah, who is also fluent in Tagalog.

The Philippines has been an important arena for domestic, regional and global terrorist groups for 20 years.

The ISIS-initiated merger of the fighting formations and unification of the leaders will present an unprecedented challenge to Manila. As the “soldiers of the caliphate” in the Philippines, they will mount operations that will increasingly mirror those of the ISIS core in Syria and Iraq. There is no better time for the Philippine government to act. If the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, President Benigno Aquino, procrastinates, ISIS ideology will spread, gravely damaging the peace process. The four ISIS “battalions” will grow in strength, size and influence and present an enduring challenge to his successors.

ISIS in Philippines a threat to region, Rohan Gunaratna, January 12, 2016, Straits Times

Same with the other threats to human security- illegal drug use, criminality, insurgency, and corruption. These did not suddenly happen during the current President’s time or watch. In a way then we could call him the fixer-President. But imagine the burden (of past inactions) on the shoulders of this 72-year old, foremost, that to his life from red ants scampering to get out of their mounds that are under attack. History is replete with stories about belated recognition of sincere and genuine leaders.

De-constructing IS or ISIS in the Philippines

For the many of us here who have not given a fug about IS (or, ISIS as popularized here), because why should the topic muddle our daily conversations, until the Marawi City incident, IS or Islamic State is none other than the former al-Qaida in Iraq. ISIS is acronym for Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, the self-styled Islamic caliphate that the (former) al-Qaida group “overran huge chunks of Iraqi and Syrian territory” after the demise of bin Laden.

Al-Qaida (now IS), according to several independent studies, such as J.Milligan’s Islamic Identity, Postcoloniality and Educational Policy: Schooling and Ethnoreligious Conflict in the Southern Philippines and Samira Gutoc’s Causes of “Terrorism”: The Philippine Case had “thoroughly penetrated” the country by the late 1990s. Purportedly, in 1980 the MILF “had begun sending mujahideen for training and combat experience in Afghanistan. One result of this effort was the establishment of ties with the al-Qaida network of Osama bin Laden which began…recruiting soldiers for the war in Afghanistan”.

The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), a splinter group from the MNLF and Filipinos who fought in Afghanistan, appearing in the mid-90s, has been linked to the al-Qaida network. However, when this link weakened in the late 90s, the group connected with Indonesia-based Jeemah Islamiyah (JI) that has “ideological origins in the Darul Islam (DI) movement of the 1950s and 1960s” also networked with al-Qaida. JI aims to establish a pan-Islamic State in South East Asia.

Another group affiliated with the al-Qaida network which appeared around the same time, in 1991, is the RSM (Rajah Solaiman Movement). The group is comprised of Christians from Northern Philippines who converted to Islam, supports violence against Filipino Christians and maintains base in Metro Manila. Reportedly, it gets funding from JI and training from ASG. It has been alleged that the group was behind the 2004 Superferry bombing that killed 116 people

Yet another group, AKP (Ansarul Khilafah Philippines) founded by a former MILF member disgruntled by the collapse of the peace talks in 2008. It is reported that the group has direct connections to ISIS fighters and has it’s base in Sarangani and Sultan Kudarat.

Last, but only so far as this post goes, the Maute Group also known as IS-Ranao or IS-Lanao. The IPAC Report writes of the group,

The Maute Group based in Lanao del Sur has the smartest, best-educated and most sophisticated
members of all of the pro-ISIS groups in the Philippines. It is largely ethnic Maranao, and its
stronghold is Mindanao State University (MSU) in Marawi City, where it has been able to attract
students and teachers.

The Maute group reportedly began as a training unit set up by Marwan around 2011 or even earlier, called al-Ghuraba and briefly Jamaah Tawhid wal Jihad – the name used by the late Abu Musa Zarqawi in Iraq and later by the supporters of radical Indonesian cleric Aman Abdurrahman in Indonesia.

By 2012, it had become Khilafah Islamiyah Movement (KIM), initially reported to be led by one Ust. Humam Abdul Najid alias Wai but in fact the Mautes are believed to have been the organisers even then.56 KIM was said to have been responsible for the 26 July 2013 bombing at a Cagayan de Oro bar and bistro that killed six.57 After ISIS’s recognition of Isnilon as amir, the Mautes began using the name “IS-Ranao” to indicate a division of the new as-yet-undeclared province of ISIS – just as BIFF became IS-Maguindanao and Isnilon Hapilon’s territory was IS-Basilan.

Locals call these groups “spoliers of peace”. 

But why all these splinter groups and their more extreme views relative to their more principled former organizations? Synthesizing their histories, we come to see that they have become disenchanted over the inconsistencies in the decades-long peace talks that appear to have no end, like drawn-out criminal cases in corrupt courts and we can site the massacre of journalists in Mindanao, and have taken matters into their own hands, the hard way or no way. Looking deeper, the root of their struggle is continuing injustices to the Moro/Muslim people. When you go to Mindanao, the mass of the Moro/Muslim people remain living on the edges of villages, sa laylayan as VP Robredo calls it. Mawawalan ka talaga ng dignidad living in these places, and the Moro are proud people.

” Attention grabbers” the armed groups are also called. Precisely, in the sense that their violent acts underlie and point toward the real ills in Mindanao society. Remember that once in the lives of these terrorists they believed, trusted and allied themselves with government or the rule of law. But at one point, abandoned that because of not being able to take anymore government’s failures. Pity, because their talents have been misdirected. How does one resolve such a misdirection of people? 

Government, national and especially local government, needs to re-boot it’s style and system of governance in the region. It also needs to undergo healing as what it has been extolling people in the region to do. It can start by making a sincere apology. Recall when the Australian PM offered an apology to the aborigines, “unfinished business of the nation”, for the mistreatment the natives suffered under past governments, in order “to remove a great stain from the nation’s soul”. The Filipino nation is inextricably bound to the decisions and actions of the State as the resources behind State decisions and actions come from the people. The people share in the consequences, good or bad, arising from the decision or action of their elect.

Further, when you go around the villages the common statement locals make is that government’s promises made to the people in the region have remained just promises. Nagkapatong-patong na over the decades. What do villages in the region need? Land (many migrants as well as marginalized Moro/Muslims remain without titles to the lots they occupy), jobs and access to training and capital for the masses to establish and sustain their livelihoods, barangay roads, health centers (many are without staff and equipment), inclusive education (ie. the use of Maranao as mother tongue for Maranao children and not Cebuano/Bisaya), adult education, rules and processes that do not disenfranchise the already poor, upholding the rule of law as well as TA and respect for positive traditional mechanisms eg. council of elders, etc.  Recognition of the unique culture and beliefs of the Moro people and provide for their integration in national policies. Presently, policies regard Filipinos as a homogenous people. The Cordillera is better off in the sense that each tribe has their own land or territory eg. Mountain Province for the Bontoc people, or Kalinga and Apayao for the Kalingas. This the Moro people don’t have. From their perspective, it’s now the non-Moro who’ve occupied much of their land or at least the best or most fertile portions of it. Religion is incidental.

The above , basically the MDGs or the SDGs now  are what more progressive Mindanao areas like Davao enjoy. And, with Davao, it was not national government extending it’s arm to the City that made it a premier city in the South, rather it was local government. In many provinces, however, it is local officials who are obstacles to good governance and therefore contributed to the opening up of a space right under their noses in which extremism has taken over.

The moment of boomerang

Today in the Catholic community is Black Saturday. Brussels, like Paris before it, having been similarly terrorized is indeed black news.

What was it with Paris and recently Brussels? The incidents in both these capitals were I believe what the French philosopher and Nobel laureate, Jean-Paul Sartre, described in his 1964 book, Colonialism and Neocolonialism, as the moment of the boomerang:

In Algeria and Angola, Europeans are massacred on sight. It is the moment of the boomerang, the third stage of violence: it comes back and hits us, and, no more than on the other occasions can we understand that it is our own violence… The natives…They have a single duty, a single objective: to drive out colonialism by any means.

In this seminal book, Sartre criticizes French policies in it’s colony, Algeria, in the 1950s and 1960s. He argues for the necessity of decolonization lauded as key reference to understanding the break-up of the French colonial empire.

What this tells us is that these particular acts of terrorism are not new. It has been going on for quite a while. What’s new is this generation who grew up with no knowledge of wars or conflicts. If there were, we were perhaps mere infants then. Hence our reaction: naïve indignation. Or, just a shrug of the shoulders, because how do we properly react to something we don’t have historical consciousness of?

For any reader, the incidents, within the framework of Sartre’s arguments, can be singularly said as karma. For those immersed academically in the study of colonialism, or politically as in the active elimination of it’s remains, it is no less than man reconstructing himself.

The colonized cure themselves of the colonial neurosis by driving out the colon with weapons… from afar, we regard their war as the triumph of barbarism; but it leads by itself to progressive emancipation of the fighters, it progressively liquidates the colonial darkness within and outside them… One must remain terrified or become terrible… Terror has left Africa and established itself here, for there are quite simply fanatics here who want to make us natives.

Today, the natives are revealing their truth; as a result, our exclusive club is revealing its weakness: it was a minority, no more and no less. And worse than that: since the others are making themselves human beings through their opposition to us, it appears that we are the enemies of the human race; the elite is revealing its true nature: a gang. Our cherished values are losing their sparkle: looking at it closely, there is not a single one that is not stained with blood.

Sartre continues

at this first stage of the revolt, they have to kill: to shoot down a European is to kill two birds with one stone, doing away with oppressor and oppressed at the same time: what remains is a dead man and a free man…

we, the people of Europe, are also being decolonized, that is to say the colon within each of us is being removed in a bloody operation. Let us look at ourselves, if we have the courage, and see what is happening to us.

Sartre then asks at the same time provides an answer

Will we recover? Yes. Violence, like Achilles’ spear, can heal the wounds that it has made. Today we are in chains, humiliated, sick with fear, at our lowest ebb… Every day we shy away from the fight, but you can be sure that we will not avoid it: the killers need it; they will wade in and let us have it. Fear, count on the colons and the mercenaries: they will make you take the plunge. Perhaps then, with your back to the wall, you will finally unleash this new violence aroused in you by old rehashed crimes. But that, as they say, is another story. That of man.

That of man. To which I add, of the new enlightened European.

On the Jakarta bombing

What’s signficant and alarming in this attack is, it’s Starbucks. Who goes to Starbucks?  Mostly the yuppie crowd out on a break for good fun, small talk, and coffee, all these in a genteel and cosmopolitan environment. Being the target of an attack, more so by extremism is farthest in their minds.

But then that’s the objective of terrorism:  for one to know terror and subsequently, one’s life to be defined by it.  Too, that is why we fight it. Because, who is the normal human being who wants to live in constant anxious anticipation of horrific events happening close to home hence his or her life to be constricted by such?

Ironic though that terror-ism is happening at a time when the world is very much advanced in knowledge, that is, knowledge of what is right and wrong.