THE Manila Times reported recently that a certain Filipino doctor had funded or at least donated to those extremists who carried out a grenade attack on an entertainment outlet in Malaysia. Rumors, too, have once again surfaced in Sabah as to the possibility of a new wave of kidnappings along the seacoasts facing the Philippines. It is said that as the armed standoff in Marawi is winding down with the Philippine military successfully recapturing the city from the fanatical armed elements, the latter is short of cash and supplies on the one hand, and long in extra “manpower” freed up from the siege, to take up piracy and kidnapping as both a source of livelihood and a way to replenish the material resources for their extremist causes.
I mince no words here in laying out the potentially dire scenario for both my homeland and the Philippines as a whole because to do otherwise would be to perform a disservice to all peace-loving inhabitants of the region. It also demonstrates that as elsewhere in the world, Europe and the Middle East included, terrorism knows no boundaries and typically spreads across frontiers, what with its perverted “local” variations, such as kidnap-for-ransom and piracy-for-profit. No country can singlehandedly claim victory over terrorism. Not Malaysia. Not the Philippines. By acting alone, you can at most temporarily shift their locus of operation to another, neighboring, region. But as soon as conditions change in their favor, they will return to reclaim their “lost territory,” and often with a big bang.
It is indeed fortunate that the three affected countries in the region – Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia – are concerned enough about the long-term negative implications of rampant piracy in the Sulu Sea and surrounding waters that they have decided to launch joint patrols— both maritime and airborne, the latter starting only last week, with the overland mode to come soon—in order to more effectively counter this recurring scourge that threatens both the security and the socio-economy of not only this part of the world, but the many ships passing through these waters which come from all over the world. These transnational, primarily military cooperative, measures should be welcome by all peace-loving citizens of the three countries (and beyond, as there are also interested neighboring countries acting as observers), but to be effective they must be regularized, and be infused with more military assets and other material resources.
We must also mince no words and shed no actions in tackling corruption, not least among the official ranks of the countries concerned. Frankly speaking, it often defies my perhaps admittedly incomplete logic as I watch those news footage or documentary films on the armed conflicts, robberies and kidnappings mentioned above. Why is it that these bad guys, unlike their counterparts (terrorists and kidnappers) from around the world who are using mostly Kalashnikovs and AK47s as weapons of choice to fight off even American soldiers, use mostly American-made weapons, including M16s against similarly armed officially troops? Where do these supposedly more expensive weapons come from? Some hanky-panky is going on here although I have no proof offhand to speculate one way or another. Has corruption and its close cousin, collusion, become so endemic in at least some if not all of the countries concerned that there are leakages even in their official weapons supply system? I don’t dare to point any specific finger, but if this leak is not somehow plugged quickly and hopefully somewhat permanently, the regional battle against terrorism, piracy and kidnapping will only be an exercise in futility, going round and round in circles with no appreciable, more final results.
Yet another key to the eradication of both terrorism and kidnapping as a way of livelihood is the uplifting of the regional socioe-conomy and the hopefully contingent narrowing of the jarring gap between the wealthy and the poor locals. The long touted but little-achieved Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East Asia Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) should be dusted off and revived, erecting essentially a sub-regional free trade area with low or no tariffs and non-tariff barriers. Major foreign investors such as China should be invited to undertake the infrastructural build-up and the economic stimulus. The aim is to grow this previously grossly neglected corner of the world which is nevertheless rich in natural resources and straddle important shipping lanes. Of course, extra care and attention must be paid to the possibility of cross-border money laundering in favor of the terrorist groups.
It is bad enough that we are all still mired in a prolonged worldwide economic slowdown. It is even worse that we are also saddled with ideological and religious extremism which gives vent in the form of terrorist violence that affects all of us. To fight off one of these scourges is difficult enough, to fight off both really requires a lot of determination and hardwork from all of us who are peace-loving and seeking a better life.