THE government has yet to officially declare the defeat of IS-inspired Maute extremist group with the death of Isnilon Hapilon, the designated emir of the Islamic State (IS) in Southeast Asia, and Omarkhayam Maute during a daring military operation, but the military has stressed the need to strengthen security laws to “inoculate the country from terrorists.”
The military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr., said the government should strengthen the Human Security Act or Republic Act (RA) 9372, which took effect on March 6, 2007.
He said while RA 9372 allows the examination of financial transactions, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas said the law did not cover foreign currency deposit units (FCDU).
Local terror groups allegedly receive funding from their supporters overseas through the banking system, specifically FCDU accounts, which are mostly US dollar deposits kept in the country’s thrift and commercial banks.
“So, it’s up to our lawmakers and security officials here at the DND (Department of National Defense) what do. And then the BI (Bureau of Immigration) must also be strengthened to prevent the entry of foreign terrorists,” Padilla said.
Weeks after the Maute group seized the Islamic City of Marawi, security officials from neighboring countries expressed concern that the Maute group had become a new security “threat” to the entire southeast Asian region.
Security expert Richard Heydarian came up with such observation after attending a major security conference in Singapore attended by US Pacific Commander Admiral Harry B. Harris and the Prime Minister of Australia.
“I talked to many people. All of them, their concern was Marawi ISIS. They are very worried about ISIS,” Heydarian said, using another acronym for IS.
“All the discussion about human rights, war on drugs, Duterte’s ascerbic remarks, suddenly, were set aside,” he said.
Heydarian said Malaysia and Indonesia were apprehensive about the possibility that the radical Maute group might influence a portion of their respective populations.
“They’re large. I mean, two years ago the police chief of Malaysia said there could be up 50,000 sympathizers of ISIS. Now, Malaysia is very effective in internal security apparatus, not to mention, they are not democratic,” he said.
“They could just put in jail and torture you any moment. So they could contain it. But their fear is what if the fighters go to Mindanao, build the base there and then strike back? That’s a big problem for them,” he added.
Heydarian said Indonesia and Malaysia now regard the Philippines as the “weak link” in the fight against terrorism in Southeast Asia. “So, they said, ‘Let’s help this weak link before we get burned, dragged into this.’ They really see the Philippines as the weak link.”
“Everyone is going to be on alert because you know in the same vein that the crisis in Marawi is a reflection of the defeat of the ISIS command in the Middle East. You could say the same way that the defeat of Maute in Marawi could spur other attacks in other places of the Philippines including Mindanao,” he said.
The military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr., objected to the supposed assessment of some Malaysian and Indonesian security officials that the Philippines was the “weakest” link in the fight against terrorism in Southeast Asia.
“In fact we are very proactively engaged. Unfortunately our laws are not that strong or as strong as those in other countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. We need to strengthen our laws so that we can better inoculate our country from the threat of terrorists,” he said.
Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, who is from Mindanao, said the government must not lower its guard following reports that the IS’ strength in the Middle East had been diminished following their expulsion from Mosul in Iraq, their last stronghold.
“They lost their headquarters in Mosul. And the report was that they are now scattered,” he said.
“That’s why I’m not surprised if we expect more foreign fighters in the Philippines coming from these other areas that have been taken over by governments fighting extremism,” Zubiri said.
“So we must be vigilant. We must remain vigilant on these countries or so-called extremist fighters from other areas coming to the Philippines,” he added.
Defense cooperation among the naval forces of the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia must be enhanced to secure territorial waters and prevent extremists from other countries from entering through the backdoor, the lawmaker said.
“We should enhance our radar systems. We should enhance our patrol planes. We should enhance our navies, our patrol ships. We need a national ID (identification) system,” Zubiri said.
National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. belittled the ability of “displaced” IS fighters from the Middle East to come to the Philippines through the backdoor.
“I doubt if they will have the means and support to come here. That’s why we adopted some measures so that
our tri-boundary with Malaysia and Indonesia will be properly secured,” he said.
Padilla pointed out that the defeat of IS in the Middle East somehow affected the Maute group. “There will be no more beacon for them to follow because it has fallen already.”
“So, it’s not right to say that those defeated ISIS elements in the Middle East would flee here. We will prevent them from creating trouble here,” the military spokesman said.
“We should join forces with the Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) to fight this. We already have bilateral border agreements with Malaysia and Indonesia to further strengthen the patrolling of our porous borders to prevent these terrorists from jumping from one country to another,” Padilla said.