MANILA – Norman Lasuca was about 17 when he ran away from home in 2014.
It was a long search for his family until June 28, when twin bombings rocked Indanan town in the restive southern Philippine province of Sulu. Eight were killed, including three soldiers and the two bombers, while at least 12 were wounded.
Lasuca, authorities confirmed, was one of the two suicide bombers.
He was the first Filipino to have committed such an attack.
It was his mother, Vilman Alam Lasuca, who identified Lasuca through his severed head recovered from the blast site. It was the first time she saw her son again since he ran away.
A DNA test later confirmed his identity.
“The DNA results…concluded that there is 99.99 percentage probability match on the DNA sample taken from Vilman Lasuca and samples of [Norman Lasuca],” the Philippine National Police (PNP) Regional Crime Laboratory Office in Davao Region stated in its report.
Investigation showed that Lasuca, 23, set off the improvised explosive device he was wearing at a checkpoint near the Philippine Army's 1st Brigade Combat Team.
This created a distraction that enabled his still unidentified accomplice to run in front of the camp’s gate and detonate another bomb.
Citing his mother's narration, authorities said Lasuca grew up a battered child, often beat by his ill-tempered father, Fredericko, a mechanic. He was the 5th among 11 children.
“Siya ay biktima ng pananakit ng kaniyang ama na isang laborer na sa marahil sa pagod at liit ng kaniyang kinikita ay napagbubuntunan ng galit itong batang Norman,” said Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo, spokesperson of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
(He was a victim of physical abuse by his father who was a laborer. Perhaps due to exhaustion and because he had low pay, he turns his resentment to the young Norman.)
The military said terrorist organization Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) recruited, trained, and equipped Lasuca for the attack.
“Accordingly, Lasuca joined the group of ASG when he was 16 or 17 years old due to the influence of his friends/neighbor, the Dela Cruz brothers. Another reason that he joined the group is to escape his father who constantly beat him,” said Maj. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, chief of the Armed Forces’ Western Mindanao Command.
According to Sobejana, Lasuca lived in Barangay Asturias in Jolo and studied elementary in a public school there.
“He initially joined the group of Yasser Igasan and later joined the group of Hajan Sadjaan when Igasan died during an encounter with government forces.”
Clinical psychologist Camille Garcia said a child who experience physical abuse or grow up in violence could either be withdrawn or aggressive.
“Pupuwede kasing mag-develop ng sociopathic behavior eh na tinatawag. So ’pag may ganon, wala siyang remorse, hindi makokonsensiya kung ano man ’yung puwede niyang gawin,” said Garcia.
(He could develop sociopathic behavior. So when that happens, there is no remorse, his conscience won't bother him, whatever he does.)
“’Yung anger na ’yun pupuwedeng ma-stimulate na hindi niya man gantihan ’yung gumawa sa kaniya, puwedeng gawin niya sa iba.”
(This anger that can be stimulated, while he could not take revenge on the one who hurt him, he can do it to others.)
FIRST FILIPINO SUICIDE BOMBER
Suicide attacks have for long been a terror tactic often seen overseas. But recently, bombings carried out by extremists ready to give up their lives to claim that of others have been recorded in the Philippines.
Apart from the June 28 blasts, the tactic was seen in at least 2 other recent bombings: the twin blasts at the Jolo Cathedral during Mass in January, and a van bomb at a military checkpoint in Basilan in July 2018.
“It’s really alarming kasi first-time ever na ma-establish natin na Filipino, ‘di ba?” said Sobejana. “We have to accept the fact na mayroon na talagang ganon.”
(It’s really alarming because this is the first time ever that we have established that [a suicide bomber was] a Filipino, right? We have to accept the fact that we already have one.)
The Indanan blasts, according to terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna, shows the aggressive radicalization of Filipino jihadists by the Islamic State (ISIS), which could mean more suicide attacks – something that Philippine security troops are unfamiliar with.
“There would be more suicide attacks by Filipinos in the South, so we can conclusively say that this is a bombing carried out by Filipinos who have been radicalized,” he said in an interview on ANC.
He added: “This is going to change the threat picture completely, the element of [Filipino] suicide is introduced. The government troops, police and others will have to take security measures and operate very carefully.”
Suicide bombing finds its origins in Russia in the 19th century, and has been carried out from Japan to the Middle East to Sri Lanka and sprouted elsewhere, according to historian Jeffrey William Lewis in a study published by the Ohio State University.
Since the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center in 2001, the world has become familiar with “suicide bombers,” often portrayed as those who hold an almost lurid fascination for their willingness to kill themselves while killing others supposedly in the name of Allah.
Prof. Julkipli Wadi of the University of the Philippines Institute of Islamic Studies cited the phenomenon of violent extremism worldwide.
“[This is] driven by the rising ideology among so-called fundamentalists or so called Wahabi or Salafi-oriented teachings. And this ideology has already penetrated to many parts of the world including Southeast Asia, and the Philippines included, particularly Mindanao and Sulu area,” he said.
The Philippines also had a share of suicide bombings during the late Spanish colonization to the Japanese invasion in the Sulu archipelago, performed by so-called juramentados, meaning “one who has taken an oath.”
The group of Moro men fearlessly threw themselves upon invading police and soldiers or Christian civilians, and are expected to be killed themselves, based on the 1993 book "The Cambridge History of Southeast Asia."
The deadly SuperFerry bombing in 2004 was originally a suicide mission, according to security expert Rommel Banlaoi.
“The Filipino suicide bombing attack only confirms what we have been fearing for the last couple of years, and we have seen that coming and now the time has come to have that. And I see what I called a ‘domino effect’ because that has been the desire of the Islamic State to the Philippines: to encourage followers to mount such kind of violent attack through suicide mission,” said Banlaoi.
Banlaoi is president of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research and has been monitoring terrorist activities over the past 2 decades.
It has taken a long process of recruitment and indoctrination in the Philippines, according to Banlaoi.
“Because the level of religiosity of Filipino Muslim is not that deep compared to the Arab world or even compared to Indonesia and Malaysia. The Muslims here are very moderate and secular that’s why it took them time to convince young people of such kind of act,” he said.
Muslims make up a minority of the predominantly Catholic Philippine population.
PREVENTING THE RISE OF FILIPINO TERRORISTS
The Mindanao region has been placed under martial law since May 2017 following 5 months of firefights between state troops and the ISIS-linked local terrorist group Maute in Marawi City.
Apart from focused military operations, target hardening, and intelligence gathering to quell terrorists, the military is also preventing the growth of extremism in the country by conducting community support programs in far-flung and conflict-affected areas.
Established since 2017, the program aims to protect people from being exploited by terrorist groups through lectures on deceptive recruitment and disadvantages of being associated with the underground movement.
Banlaoi said authorities have to double the efforts and outsmart the enemies who are now also using cyberspace to attract jihadists.
“Ang labanan dito, unahan. The Philippine authorities must be 2 steps ahead,” he said.
(The fight here is about who goes first. The Philippine authorities must be 2 steps ahead.)