Specters of horror: Terrorism as rebellion and invasion

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ANTONIO P. CONTRERAS

SENIOR Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, the petitioners against martial law in Mindanao, and other legal scholars have emphatically declared that rebellion and terrorism cannot be the same.

And they are dead wrong.

Terrorism and rebellion are different only in the sense that the latter could be one of the many instances where terrorist acts can be committed. Thus, acts of terrorism, such as kidnapping, assassinations car bombing, hijacking and hostage-taking, can be done by people who are engaged in an insurgency or rebellion against the state.

The juxtaposition between acts of terror on one hand, and rebellion on the other, occur in the broader category of terrorism that is referred to as political terrorism. This is differentiated from those perpetrated by criminal organizations such as drug syndicates like the one led by Pablo Escobar. It is also different from random acts of terror by single individuals who are psychologically deranged, such as that committed by Jessie Carlos in Resorts World Manila which, contrary to what has been officially held, remains theoretically an act of terrorism.


Political terrorism is spawned by identity-based rebellion, such as the one fanned by Salafist ideology, which includes al-Qaida and currently, the Daesh, or IS.

It is wrong to limit the definition of rebellion only to those acts where non-state actors defy the authority of one particular state. The IS, which has converted itself into a caliphate, is now operating on a global scale and has waged global rebellion against all established states of the world. IS jihadists are no longer just terrorists, but are now behaving like a rebel army marching across the world, albeit not in conventional warfare, nor through guerrilla tactics, but through the transformation of terrorism from random acts of violence designed simply to sow psychological fear, perpetrated by relatively small groups, even by individuals or lone wolves, with no intention to occupy a territory, into an organized, well-funded and deliberate strategy to dominate the entire world.

It is in this context that ragtag criminal bands devoid of ideology such as the Abu Sayyaf, as well as the Maute group and the BIFF, are transformed into rebels with causes. What people like Justice Carpio see as terrorists—and hence they quickly judge cannot be part of a rebellion—are these groups when their main acts of mayhem are kidnapping for ransom and beheading their victims. But this was before they established a link with the Caliphate, and before they acquired an ideology, and became part of the global expansion of Salafism manifested in a radically politicized and extremely horrifying appropriation of Islam. When the ASG, Maute and BIFF, and other radical groups, identified themselves with the Caliphate, they ceased to become simply terrorists. Their acts are now embedded in the global rebellion that IS is waging against the West, against Christianity and other religions, and against modernity and democracy.

This rebellion is now manifesting itself in Marawi, a rebellion that can no longer be decoupled from acts of terrorism. This is because while what is being done by the Maute rebels who are holed up in Marawi could be interpreted as traditional urban warfare, they carry with them the promise of terror that people in Iraq and Syria have suffered in the hands of the rebel forces of IS. There is no doubt that should any territory of the country fall into the hands of IS, there will be beheadings, stoning to death, crucifixion, and extreme curtailment of human rights. Any lingering memories of the horrors associated with Marcos’ martial law, or with the war on drugs, would pale in comparison.

Terrorists who have imbibed the ideology of Salafism experience depersonalization and subordinate their individuality to IS. This leads them to develop extreme prejudices about other people, and conditions them to see the world as divided between us and them. In their worldview, they are no longer citizens of any state, but are now citizens of the Caliphate, and we are their enemies targeted for extermination.

Detached from their identification as Filipino citizens, these local jihadists could now in fact be considered as foreign warriors. They are the advanced party to a larger occupying force representing a state that is no longer confined to a fixed territory but has become a state of mind. Isnilon Hapilon has already been appointed as emir whose task is to turn Marawi and the whole of Lanao into a wilayat, or province of the Caliphate.

Thus, what is now going on in Marawi is no longer just rebellion. It has also already acquired the character of an invasion.

It is a big mistake for Justice Carpio and others to continue to be confined to the political and legal categories of Westphalian states and the conventional constructs about rebellion and invasion. In fact, with the nature of the horror that we confront, our weakened type of martial law may not even be enough. Justice Carpio should also realize that there is no arbitral court where we can take our case to protest this territorial incursion, as we did with China’s encroachments in the West Philippine Sea.

Justice Carpio once said that not to defend our territory against an invading force is treason. To continue to believe that terrorism, rebellion and invasion could not find and give potent power to each other is a risk which we cannot afford to take.

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2 Comments

  1. As usual, a very, very well said piece form the professor. Carpio and his ilk owe it to the Filipino people to sit under the tutelege of Prof. Contreras. These idiots have got a lot of unlearning, relearning and learning (URL) to do.

  2. This is a well thought out and accurate explanation of what we are currently facing. Carpio is just showing his bias against the current government by defining terrorism, rebellion, and invasion to suit his side.