|Photo from ABC News|
Commentary of an Academic
(Copyright @ 2017 by Chester B Cabalza. All Rights Reserved).
While jihadi terrorists are still counting their days in Marawi City as Filipino soldiers and policemen intensify firefights against Abu Sayyaf top leader Isnilon Hapilon and Maute group leader Abdullah Maute, the Armed Forces of the Philippines firmly believes that clashes will end even before the expiration of ASEAN Chair and Filipino President Duterte’s extended martial law on December. The pervading security situation in Marawi needs to be evaluated carefully reviewing the past and current campaigns against terrorists. The popularity of local bandits who evolved to jihadi radicals is what emboldened them against the intensive and extensive military campaigns of the security sector.
On the hand, the Barcelona terror attack last August 17 reminded Spain of the devaju Madrid suffered more than a decade ago. As Europe faces again strings of international terrorism, the evolved transnational crime carries a clear shift in Islamic State’s strategy as well as the growing number of foreign terrorist fighters to sow an ambiguous ideology.
Spain and the Philippines share common historical experiences as colonizer-colony states but both countries, geographically distant from each other and affiliated with two of the oldest regional blocs – Madrid joined the European Union in 1986 while Manila is a founding member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 1967, are vulnerable to jihadi terrorism. Given the situation, can ASEAN learn from EU on counterterrorism or vice versa?
Terrorism is broad in nature and counterterrorism needs holistic approaches to prevent terrorism. It incorporates practice, military tactical operations, government strategies, law enforcement, treatises and intelligence sharing to combat a transborder crime; hence, it also attempts to counter financing of terrorism that gives lifeblood to its existence and success. All terrorists may become extremists but not all extremists necessarily end up as terrorists. Transformation to terrorism starts by passing through the journey of religious extremism and radicalism that have social dimension in which terrorism has none. And since extremism is a precursor to terrorism, addressing the causes of radicalism is just like preventing terrorism to take place.
In the desire to benchmark counterterrorism policies and laws, there are general and optimistic views where ASEAN and EU can learn from each other including the need to expand areas of cooperation to more information exchange especially on terrorism and religious extremism. Integration of efforts versus terrorism at the operational level; and safeguarding trade and transport systems from being taken advantage of by terrorist networks to transport illegal goods. The ASEAN-EU defense cooperation is necessary to achieve common interests considering that the two oldest regional blocs drive against transnational crimes, cybercrimes and terrorism. Both organizations also condemned terrorism in all its forms and call on the international community to work together to fight this scourge to mankind.
On the other hand, there are cultural handicaps at the organizational level that may weaken the cooperation of crafting policies and implementing treatises on counterterrorism. A case in point is the crafting of policy for International Defense and Security Engagements in the two regions that obviously are influenced by external and internal forces in shaping the defense cooperation relationships with other countries. External factors such as those connected with foreign policy as well as internal factors such as capability development requirements are but some drivers that impact how the defense ministries conduct its foreign engagements. Collectively as a region, it is premature for Southeast Asian member-states to see the effects of the impending implementation of the ASEAN Community by 2015 with the expected influx of ASEAN military engagements and its attendant consequences of regional integration on defense and military procurements.
A key element in defense cooperation is building the capacity of partner nations’ defense organization through security cooperation and assistance programs to support defense institution building. In this regard, more and better coordination mechanisms are needed to avoid the implementation of redundant security cooperation programs. Translating security cooperation goals into effective action given the multitude of stakeholders, changing political and security environments, and resource limitations, defense cooperation must be properly directed for greatest effects.
Among the most important policies of the defense is strengthening alliances. In leveraging alliances against international terrorism, there are rules and methods to maximize growth in building lasting relations. But acknowledging that ASEAN and EU have entered a dynamic and future-oriented era in the development of defense relations, both regional organizations are committed to maintain partnerships in counterterrorism efforts.