/ 21 August 2020

On July 03 2020, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte signed into law the Republic Act No. 11479 otherwise known as “Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020” which intends to prevent, prohibit, and penalize terrorism in the Philippines. Shortcomings in previous counter-terrorism policies highlight the need to have a new law that can effectively address security challenges. The Human Security Act of 2007, for instance, proved futile as it caused confusion vis-a-vis Revised Penal Code making the Philippines a safe haven for people who relentlessly terrorize without fear of facing serious criminal charges.

The absence of a strong policy against evil acts of terrorism placed the Philippines as the 9th most negatively affected by terrorism, along with Afghanistan, Iran, Nigeria, Syria, Pakistan, Somalia, India, Yemen and Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to the Global Terrorism Index of 2019[1].

Terrorism in the Philippines

While peace negotiations with both the MNLF and MILF have successfully concluded, more extremist groups like the Abu Sayaff Group (ASG), Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), and the Maute have evolved and continue to reject autonomy as a solution to their struggle. These breakaway groups pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and promised to resume armed struggle for an independent Islamic State. There is also a degree of threat posed by foreign terrorist organizations such as the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) who is responsible for transferring terrorist knowledge on assembly and use of improvised explosive devices to local terrorist groups.

In 2012, Islamic fundamentalist groups declared its support to ISIS and vowed to fight for the declaration of Mindanao as a separate religious state. This series of events was also followed by the ASG’s pledge of allegiance to ISIS in 2014. These groups have taken inspiration from ISIS and have now banded together under one leadership with the aspiration of establishing a Wilayat or Islamic State province in Southeast Asia. In 2017, the Maute Group claims responsibility for the terrorist attacks in Marawi which left the city devastated and more than a thousand lives lost.

Insurgency in the Philippines

The long drawn insurgency remains as the primary threat to the country. It aims to topple the country’s democracy with a totalitarian communist state, by waging a protracted war against the government. While communism has been irrelevant through time, it is still being used by several lawless elements to rationalize their nefarious activities. The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) capitalizes on exploitable issues like lack of education, unemployment, and other socioeconomic issues to push for its ill motives, propaganda, and recruitment. The most vulnerable are the youth, especially the Out-of-School-Youths whose minds are easily enticed into joining the armed struggle.

Although, initially, the ongoing “on and off” peace talks with the CPP-NPA-NDF (CNN) have been hopeful at the onset of the Duterte Administration, the efforts of the government peace panel were to no avail. The insincerity of the CNN, their non-compliance to truces and prejudiced demands suggest the absence of an enabling environment for the conduct of peace negotiations.

The Philippine Approach: The Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020

Our nation faces a lot of internal security challenges that impede our growth and progress. Among others, underdevelopment, poverty, peace and security, corruption and divisiveness are all related to each other. These continue to provide insurgents and terrorists with exploitable issues to radicalize and agitate communities. With the evolving characteristics of terrorism and the lingering communist insurgency in the Philippines, it is imperative that there exists a national policy that will prevent people from being radicalized. Hence, it is equally important that the root causes of injustices and discontent are also addressed. As flagship socio-economic investments and infrastructure projects are already in the pipeline, the national government should also amplify its support on inculcating peace education and nationalism among the youth, delivery of basic services, and sustainable development.

The Anti-Terror Law, if implemented properly, will supplement government efforts against terrorism and other vile ideologies that has long been a hindrance in our pursuit of peace and security. The provisions of the newly-enacted law will strengthen government measures on investigating, prosecuting and bringing to justice perpetrators and their supporters. The recently-passed law includes tough provisions against terrorists such as the imposition of stricter penalties for persons convicted of committing and supporting acts of terrorism.

Nevertheless, tougher safeguards within the broader frame of human security are also in place. The Anti-Terror Law gives primacy to human rights and explores ways for promoting security and safety of all Filipinos from terrorists. It also guarantees the protection of civil and political liberties as Section 4 of the said law excludes  “advocacy, protest, dissent, stoppage of work, industrial or mass actions and other similar exercises of civil and political rights” in the definition of terrorism.

This long overdue measure will equip the law enforcement bodies with necessary powers to destroy terrorists who sleep soundly at night because of lenient counter-terrorism measures in the past. The Anti-Terrorism Act is a step forward on our long and arduous  journey towards peace but with the support of the Filipino people, we can put an end to terrorism and violent extremism. After all, the concerted efforts of every Filipino and the government are key to combating terrorism and achieving a lasting peace.

[1] Global Terrorism Index 2019, Top 50 Countries. Retrieved on August 20, 2020