PH policies help hinder terrorism, says expert

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 15 2016 09:39 PM

MANILA - An expert on terrorism explained how Philippine law enforcement policies have helped prevent large-scale terror attacks in the country, similar to those that happened in Paris, France and more recently in Jakarta, Indonesia. 

Speaking to ANC, Professor Rommel Banlaoi of the Philippine Institute For Peace, Violence and Terrorism, said terrorism and extremism in the Philippines are being hindered by laws like the Anti-Money Laundering Law and the existence of the Anti-Money Laundering Council.

"We already have an established institution that aims to counter the financing of terrorism in the Philippines. We have the Anti-Money Laundering Council and the Anti-Money Laundering Law that aims to really counter the financing of terrorism in the Philippines, and that is why the transfer of funds from ISIS is very difficult to reach the Philippines right now. But terrorist groups and ISIS have a new innovative way to transfer their resources...For example, one area that they are trying to use is the remittances of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs)," Banlaoi said.

For Banlaoi, it is more difficult for ISIS to send large resources to the Philippines via remittances. 

"ISIS followers in the Philippines, particularly those associated with Abu Sayyaf Group and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and other self-proclaimed ISIS followers, they have relatives and friends working, Filipino workers overseas, they can just use them to remit those money, and they have done that already but in a small scale. But if the delivery of large-scale amount will be involved, then it would be very difficult to do that through OFWs," he said.

He, however, did not deny the existence of self-proclaimed ISIS followers in the Philippines, adding that there are some groups here who are engaged in training fighters on bomb-making.

"Bomb-training is already happening, there are already ISIS followers who are giving training to the Abu Sayyaf Group. For example, the five Malaysian terror suspects wanted by the Malaysian government, they are already operating in Basilan. They conduct not only Islamic propagation activities, but also bomb-making activities," Banlaoi said.

"There are no intelligence reports, but it doesn't mean that there are no activities happening. There is just no intelligence report. The intelligence is not just monitoring them, the intelligence is not just recognizing them or they are not just identifying them, but it doesn't mean the absence of a threat, absence of activity, or absence of any imminent threat," he also said.

'NO IMMINENT THREAT' 

President Benigno Aquino III on Friday said there is no credible and imminent terror threat in the Philippines.

In an interview, Aquino said that while there were Filipinos who have identified themselves on social media as members of the terror group Islamic State, these people never lived in the country.

"One was in Saudi Arabia and another in Lebanon but they have never lived in the Philippines," he said.

The President said government intelligence agencies are monitoring the possible entry of ISIS militants in the Philippines and coordinating with other intelligence agencies.

OUTSMARTING TERRORISTS 

According to Banlaoi, Philippine law enforcement authorities have been able to deny terrorist groups an opportunity to launch large-scale terror activities.

"As far as I am concerned, I've been observing terrorism activities in the Philippines for the past 15 years. The intent is there, the capabilities of the group are there, they are just waiting for the right opportunities, and I'm very happy that law enforcement authorities have denied them the opportunities to carry out large-scale terrorist activities in the country, similar to the Jakarta bombing and the Paris bombing," he said.

He also explained that terrorists in Indonesia are better trained and are more committed to the cause than those in the Philippines. They were also able to find an opening, making it easier for them to launch the attack in Jakarta. 

"They found an opportunity in Jakarta. In this particular case in Jakarta, the terrorist group linked with ISIS just outsmarted the law enforcement authorities. I have been saying this, these terrorist groups are really composed of smart individuals, so the challenge for law enforcement authorities worldwide is to really outsmart them," Banlaoi said.

"There are extremists there (in Indonesia), they are well-trained, they are highly committed, and the level of their commitment to advance the extremist cause of Islam is higher compared to the Muslim followers in the Philippines because the vast majority of Muslim followers in the Philippines remain to be predominantly moderate and secular in outlook, and those few individuals claiming to be followers of ISIS, their level of extremism is still not that extreme compared to the followers in Indonesia and Malaysia," he added.

For Banlaoi, having a stronger foothold in the Philippines is also essential for the propagation of extremism.

"They want the Philippines to be the center of jihadist training because they want to take advantage of the local grievances and they want to really push to strong Islamic propagation to really intensify their commitment to this brand of Islam," he said.

LINKS TO ISIS

Banlaoi also cannot confirm whether Abu Sayyaf Group leader Isnilon Hapilon has been recognized by ISIS.

"Well, that is the intention of ISIS, or ISIL, to have a strong foothold in Southeast Asia, particularly in the context of the growing number of self-proclaimed followers in the region. And the only thing that followers are waiting from ISIS is to recognize their overall leaders in Southeast Asia, and apparently from the recent video that was released last week, Isnilon Hapilon, who is a commander of Abu Sayyaf Group in Basilan, has been reportedly recognized by ISIS as the overall leader of four battalions operating in Mindanao. But whether or not Isnilon Hapilon is a recognized leader in Southeast Asia, that is yet to be confirmed and officially recognized by ISIS itself," Banlaoi said.

"If there will be an official recognition from ISIS that the one proclaimed in Basilan is the ISIS branch in Southeast Asia, then that would imply delivery of resources to sustain that ISIS branch. And I hope that kind of scenario will be prevented by our law enforcement authorities from happening," he also said.

Following the attack on the Indonesian capital, experts agree that there is a growing threat from radicalized Muslims inspired by Islamic State, some of whom may have fought with the group in Syria.

However, they said the low death toll in Jakarta on Thursday pointed to the involvement of poorly trained local militants whose weapons were crude.

Seven people were killed in the three-hour siege near a busy shopping despite multiple blasts and a gunfight, and five of them were the attackers themselves. With Reuters