Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The 'ASEAN Way' in Resolving Security Issues



By Chester B Cabalza

Blogger's Notes:
Commentary of an Academic 
(Copyright @ 2017 by Chester B Cabalza. All Rights Reserved).


Manila formally played host to the two-day Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit and related summits last November 13-14, 2017 as part of the annual gathering of regional and global world leaders. Concurrently ASEAN under the Philippines’ chairmanship celebrates its golden anniversary as it aspires or struggles to achieve cohesion and unity in diversity in spite of implied syndetic secretariat function, fostered by a culturally-sensitive principle of ASEAN Way, cultivating a collegial spirit as core existence in one of the oldest regional organizations in the world.                                                                                 

The uniqueness of the ASEAN Way collectively streamlined from the ethos of the five foreign ministers capped from their habitus in playing golf to becoming the founding fathers, extremely emphasizes the iota of national sovereignty and the commitment to non-intervention into the affairs of the member-countries. Glorifying an historical achievement at fifty years old, the Philippines takes the center stage of chairing the ASEAN this year, setting the agenda for the fourth time as the host in five decades.

Five decades after the founding of ASEAN, three decades after the ASEAN summit in Manila, and a decade after the adoption of the ASEAN Charter, did ASEAN take a lead as a catalyst of change to progress or regress to survive a vision of prosperity and stability in Southeast Asia?

            The absence of armed conflict among member-states in the regional bloc perhaps affirms its first key success; this feat could be its long-standing contribution to the region and the world despite the intermittent establishments of formidable three pillars in political/security, economic, and socio-cultural to create holistic ASEAN Community.           

The ‘ASEAN Way’ as a traditional instrument to run the organization is a way too slow that aims to accelerate a certain velocity in making decisions and conventions. A long-held principle based on consultation and consensus-based decision while establishing a more concrete, systematic and productive mechanism for addressing conflicts and security threats in the region has not been fully modified and reinvented.

ASEAN Way as a bedrock emphasizes the importance of having one common language for all ASEAN member-states with unified perception of threat in political, social and economic security outlook, as well as the importance of social view on democracy and human rights.      The establishment for whose commission was recommended during the drafting of the ASEAN Vision 2025. The fallacy on becoming a stumbling block presumes consensus on the peaceful resolution of disputes, respect for international laws, and non-use of force.

The “geo-economic” capitalism subsumed in the trading system within the region deconstructs few myths about the ASEAN Way that symbolizes its being; rather, the regional organization’s fifty years of existence can be reduced to a debutant’s party that has less capacity as a dispute-solving organization. This embodies ASEAN’s failure as a model for regional cooperation in which European Union (EU) has sophisticatedly led for decades.

Hence it must be deemed that the ‘ASEAN Way’ is the heart of ASEAN itself. The view that ASEAN can either become bedrock or a stumbling block can be leaned to the belief that the organization should be used as a platform to prepare for the future. The purpose of ASEAN is for posterity delivering economic wealth for the region in the thrust of seamless connectivity as One ASEAN Community; having beauty among diversity, and the importance of the people-to-people agenda by promoting the quality of life of the people in the region as it goes beyond its three pillars of community.

The effectiveness of community-building in achieving the common goal of “One ASEAN, One Community” puts the Philippines and the entire region in a gargantuan task of “Partnering for Change, Engaging the World”. Furthermore by strengthening ASEAN, this can be a continuing and lingering desire among many decision makers in the region. There is a greater recognition that the group’s regional body and its institutions need to be empowered in line with the ASEAN Community.

ASEAN’s progressive atmosphere has maintained peace by socializing its member-states into principles and norms of non-interference in internal affairs, respect for sovereignty, and renunciation of threat and use of force all encapsulated in its ‘ASEAN Way” as enshrined in the 1976 Treaty of Amity and Cooperation.

Engagement with the civilized world has been the organization’s hallmark with its dialogue partnership system that goes beyond the Dialogue Partners. But ASEAN should utilize conscientiously its external relations to socialize other countries to the same norms and principles toward an inclusive, open, and rules-based region. Quantity of partnerships created by ASEAN should not become the success indicator; rather it should put premium on how these partnerships contribute to the regional community-building. All in all, the preservation of peace for the past five decades has been ASEAN’s greatest achievement to date.

 On the other hand, regressive acts will continuously proliferate if and all ASEAN member-states subside to maintain peace efforts in the region on its centennial. The leniency in addressing gaps pronounced in the three ASEAN’s community-building pillars will alienate the promises of the future and dynamism of the next generations in the region. Building consensus and socialization through regional integration along the process of globalization should not lose a momentum in the ASEAN. In a preferable view, economic inequity, political disenfranchisement, and people-to-people disengagement should be addressed properly consistent with the strategic aims of the ASEAN founding fathers.         

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Lessons Learned from the Liberation of Marawi

photo from PBA
By Chester B Cabalza

Blogger's Notes:
Commentary of an Academic 
(Copyright @ 2017 by Chester B Cabalza. All Rights Reserved).

The death of Maute group leader Omar Maute who was shot in the head and Abu Sayyaf cum Southeast Asia’s ISIS emir Isnilon Hapilon whose gunshots to the chest ambiguously pacified fear in Mindanao as President Rodrigo Duterte announced yesterday the liberation of the besieged Marawi City since May 23.

Almost five months before these top two Filipino terrorist leaders accidentally crumbled from the hands of snipers while rescuing local hostages, Philippine authorities was able to bring down Malaysian terrorist trailblazer Dr. Mahmud Ahmad who joined the ISIS-inspired Maute group before the real emancipation of the Marawi ends; two more months within the prescribed Martial Law in Mindanao expires.


As the Marawi conundrum draws near to an end, what are the important lessons learned that the security sector, particularly the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and the Association of Southeast Asia Nations, in general, should consider?

The underlying factor here comes with the reality that terrorism is the biggest security challenge in the Philippines and Southeast Asia. This pandemonium threat forms a multi-faceted phenomenon that resembles an iceberg constituting the tip of shocking attacks with wide base founding substantial concerns on the persistence of religious radicalization and poverty.  To annihilate and wipe out an iceberg, it has to be destroyed from the base. Similarly, terrorism should be treated properly to conscientiously address the socio-economic issues that support the tip.

Failure of intelligence sharing and government interoperability could be attributed to the weakness of the military to instantaneously contain terrorist cells in Mindanao. Terrorism in Marawi has changed the rules of war gaming as Filipino soldiers struggled to win the conflict at its own backyard. A backward military doctrine did not cope with the hybrid and urban warfare simulated by jihadi terrorists in a well-planned crucible. Terrorism comes broad in nature and counterterrorism needs holistic approaches to prevent terrorism. Incorporation of practice, military tactical operations, government strategies, strict law enforcement, treatises and intelligence sharing to combat a transborder crime are precursors in addressing the causes of radicalism and religious extremism in the region.

Retaliation from terrorist sympathizers will surely attack the crusaders and antiterrorists whose objective is to bring down the government and sow more terror to the civilians. This traditional act of vendetta killing to avenge a perceived affront or injustice has been widely practiced in Mindanao through clan feuds and ethnic tensions popularly called rido, rooted in the local culture of the dominant Muslim groups in southern Philippines.  Given a centuries old practice, the Philippine security sector must find effective counterterrorism measures to deflate the high pressure out of this customary tradition.

The apparent flaw of Philippine judicial system to implement and consider landmark cases for the decade-old antiterrorism act proves the legal downside of the unsound statute. But more than the enactment of crafted laws against terrorism, the key to prescribe remedies on the social ills of terror acts lies in addressing the holistic socioeconomic conditions in Mindanao and Southeast Asia as a whole, paramount to delivering basic services to the marginalized sector including the victims of terrorism should be handedly prioritized.

Sovereignty issues and disparities in internal security apparatuses among the defenses of member-countries around the region are among the handicaps to foster further cooperation in line with large intelligence sharing and the prohibition of foreign forces from directly engaging in actual combat on respective sovereign territories. This despite that Southeast Asia houses indigenous Islamic militant groups and terrorists. The convergence and divergence of these groupings depend on the intensity of cooperation through the strict application of punitive and preventive law enforcement measures based from the factual root causes of terrorism either ideological or socioeconomic.

Rebuilding and rehabilitation of Marawi need not solely a political act from the government but a synergy of efforts from the international community, civil society and Filipino citizens. The Philippines must learn from its mistakes during the recovery from the Haiyan supertyphoon, though considered a natural disaster, templates on best practices must be gauged to consider the impact of rebuilding a city, that is a daunting task ahead and as massive and substantial as to what the Marawi siege has gone so far, becoming one of the largest and longest human-induced hazards in the country.  Finally, development and education become the medium and long term solutions to cease the operation of terrorism in poverty-laden and ideologically misguided archipelago.     

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Can ASEAN Learn from EU on Counterterrorism or Vice Versa?

Photo from ABC News
By Chester B Cabalza

Blogger's Notes:
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.      

Rethinking the War on Drugs and Narcoterrroism

Phoo from Reuters India
By Chester B Cabalza

Blogger's Notes:
Commentary of an Academic 
(Copyright @ 2017 by Chester B Cabalza. All Rights Reserved).

The successive deaths of teenagers in Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s War on Drugs endorsed the iota that there is something wrong with the method of his most controversial banner policy. On the other hand, while Filipino soldiers are still combating jihadi terrorists in Marawi City, there are pieces of evidence that would link violent conflicts in Mindanao to narcoterrroism. In contextualizing the broad situations of this debatable policy, how should the government rethink the war on drugs and why there is substantive connection of narcoterrroism to the current siege in southern Philippines?

These two different conditions in the continuing War on Drugs are retributions to the existing norms of the campaign to eliminate illegal drugs in the Philippines through the Project “Double Barrel” that connotes a two-pronged approach, project Tokhang (lower barrel approach) and project High Value Target (lower barrel approach) that aim at attaining utopian drug-free communities across the country.  

By rethinking the methods to halt the carnage of innocent young lives demand reframing the objectives of the campaign; that the double-barrel strategy should not mean attacking the problem against suspected drugs lords or drug addicts on the level of the street, pushing simultaneously. It should no longer be described as a policy equated to a double-barreled shotgun that can fire two rounds with a single pull of the trigger. Such reframing of method should consider the social and medical dimensions of it and not solely as crime deterrence. Hence, institutionalizing an anti-drug campaign pushes for interagency cooperation that needs serious policymaking and rigid methods in protecting the asymmetrical rights of the law enforcers and the felony.     

The right to health extends the guarantee that human rights comes as a primary obligation of the state. It is realized when the government supports facilities, equipment and rehabilitation to drug dependents.  A drugged nation remains a weak and defeated nation. This malignant phenomenon tells the existence of a shadow economy whose nature may jeopardize a nations’ safety and security that draw from the real existence of the core problem. Certainly drug abuse strains family relationships and ultimately making families dysfunctional; transforming families from an asset of society into a burden.

In this case, unconditional surrender program for users and peddlers must be encouraged augmenting a well-financed management of voluntary submission for drug pushers and rehabilitated users. Mainstreaming of drug education in the curriculum of secondary education as explicitly constituted in the Philippine Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act must be conscientiously be implemented. There should be a comprehensive plan for long/medium/and short term anti-drug operations to formalize the Project Double Barrel’s procedures with a maximum end of safeguarding human rights.

On the other hand, weak governance structures and institutions in Mindanao, notwithstanding the loopholes of the Dangerous Drugs Act are making it easy for alleged terrorists and drug lords to connive and sow conflict or navigate the perimeters of narcotics’ shadow economy.  This sudden act of defiance from interest groups in the changing game plays of Philippines politics are as well manifestations of the prevailing narcopolitics and triads. In this case, drug lords cannot make a scene because they may be identified by authorities; however, they can connive with terrorists or criminals by funding terrorist activities to spread chaos. In other words, drug cartels can buy protection, political support at every level of government and society.

The Philippine government should be strategic and proactive on its War on Drugs in its solid campaign to address the social cancer of narcotics which other nation-states may have already considered a hopeless case. It should be responsive to the changing times by amplifying constructive mechanisms to address the complex problems of illegal drugs. In addressing the violence associated with narcoterrorism, there must be integrative and inclusive national policy to address religious dichotomy to eliminate enmity and stereotype between religious factions associated with illegal drugs. 

Intensive efforts to crystallize cloudy policies on the War on Drugs should be given a priority. The abrupt constructions of treatment and rehabilitation centers and the lack of it ensured preponderance of political aid that questioned a posteriori human rights issue. And those who either voluntarily or involuntarily surrendered to law enforcers add to the harrowing conditions of prisons in the country. Hence, the ramifications of the War on Drugs can be overturned despite its long term end of reducing drug supply or reducing drug demand, if methods are lawfully accomplished and the good intent ensures public safety and internal security. 

Revitalizing Military War Fighting Education

By Chester B Cabalza

Blogger's Notes:

Commentary of an Academic 
(Copyright @ 2017 by Chester B Cabalza. All Rights Reserved).

Photo from Pitz Defense Analysis
The delay in the shift resolution on how to contain the jihadi terrorism in the Marawi siege is a “wake up call” for the defense sector to constantly train and educate the military. The current dilemma is not a precedence of urban rebellion but a continuation of series of attacks by the enemies of the state. Cases in point are the 1995 Ipil massacre, the 2013 Zamboanga standoff, and other numerous attacks of the New People’s Army in town centers across the country.

The challenges of this type of fighting can be gleaned from contemporary events. Fighting in urban and built up areas will become more prevalent in the future if not addressed now.  More than that, myriad of soldiers and military officers felt short of the reorientation that the military’s principal duty is to fight war and to win it by hook or by crook. It cannot be denied that the Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT) which calls for a turnkey live training solution away from archaic guerilla war fighting replicates tactical complexities unique to urban terrain. It is a combat conducted in urban areas which is different from combat in the open at both the operational and tactical level.

Plebes at the Philippine Military Academy should reset the warrior culture that was once deemphasized in their curriculum. The warrior culture will prepare our soldiers, airmen, sailors and marines in striving to increase their proficiency in war fighting and leadership skills to protect and secure the country. Although part of their training and education calls for Military Operations Other than War (MOOTW) as supporting competencies which is also their call to duty. The law provides reserve units to participate in disaster relief operations, humanitarian assistance, support to civil authorities, support to counter drugs and counter terrorism, peacekeeping and peace enforcement. MOOTW focuses on deterring war, resolving conflict, promoting peace, and supporting civil authorities in response to domestic crises.     

Integration of military education should be tempered to both MOUT and MOOTW anchored on the principal duty to fight wars and the secondary mission to become peace builders. If existing in the programs and curriculum, then it should be adequately enhanced. This is a strategy of optimizing all military educational resources by establishing competency standards, aligning curriculum content and harmonizing organizational structures to enhance system harmony, thereby, improving military achievements. Integration of military education helps improve the delivery of military training and education that, in turn, helps generate quality elite graduates in all military institutions who are better prepared to meet contemporary security challenges.


In the more advanced courses such as the Command and General Staff College and the National Defense College of the Philippines, emphasis on education must elevate the core competency of decision-making. Courses must be designed to improve and sharpen the way senior officers make decisions on operational decision-making to quell urban rebellion. The professionalization of the military through the establishment of such military schools of higher education reflects the foundation to secure the country required to transform it through broad competencies. In the end, while the AFP supports peace efforts of the government, the AFP must also be focused on its preparedness to fight and win. And this is the primordial function of the armed forces. 

Monday, September 4, 2017

Jump for Finland and Estonia

                      Photographs by CBCabalza. Copyright © 2017 by Chester B. Cabalza. All Rights Reserved.

Enjoyed the midsummer madness in Helsinki. Magnificent cathedrals and museums are awesome. Finns are humble and hardworking. The Creators of Angry Bird! Conquering the Baltic Sea! Olde Hansa in Tallin and the must see KGB Museum in Hotel Viru!   























Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Terrorism’s Paradox in Marawi: How Will It End?

By Chester B Cabalza

Blogger's Notes:

Commentary of an Academic 
(Copyright @ 2017 by Chester B Cabalza. All Rights Reserved).
Photo courtesy of Google


Prince Hamlet’s soliloquy in William Shakespeare’s famous one-liner opening phrase, “to be or not to be?” paints a backdrop of the forbidding scenario that still looms many Filipinos’ consternation about the fate of Marawi under the IS-inspired terrorist groups. It bespeaks sorrow and pain that bemoans myriad of death of Filipinos – be it civilians, soldiers, and terrorists. The realism in Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy’s epic masterpiece on ‘War and Peace’ downplays Philippine contemporary period parallel to machinations of violent battles in the name of a false united caliphate, power play of superpowers in aid of counterterrorism measures, and the usurpation of legal power of statesmen vested with political will to crush terrorism visible to fallen Marawi City.    

The irony sows a harrowing inquiry on the role of the Philippine security sector in training Filipino soldiers as prescribed by policymakers on the orientation and reorientation of tactical operations and strategies in solving the Marawi conundrum. Should soldiers become peace builders or war fighters amid heavy causes of jihadi terrorism?  This current quandary is the biggest challenge to date for the Philippine government on its bid to stabilize internal insecurity that reckons a “wake up call” for the defense sector to constantly train and educate the military.

Prior to 9/11 the Philippines has been combating terrorism as it dwelt the nontraditional security threat as forms of multi-faceted phenomenon dissecting it from the prisms of cultural, historical, legal, philosophical, political, psychological, and technological lenses. It resembles an iceberg constituting the tip of shocking attacks with wide base founding substantial concerns on the persistence of religious radicalization and poverty. To annihilate and wipe out an iceberg, one must destroy it from the base. Similarly, terrorism should be treated properly to conscientiously address the issues that support the tip.   

More than three months of fierce fighting with the jihadi terrorists in urban setting in Marawi has caused the Armed Forces of the Philippines a big ‘Black Hawk Down’ trap despite precedence of urban rebellion during the Zamboanga siege in 2013. Failure of intelligence sharing and interoperability were attributed to the weakness of military operations to contain immediately the terrorist cells in Mindanao. More than that, myriad of soldiers and military officers felt short of the redirection that the military’s principal duty is to fight war and to win it by hook or by crook.

Terrorism in Marawi has changed the rules of the game of war as Filipino soldiers continuously struggle to win the war at home. Military doctrines must evolve to be armed with hybrid and unconventional strategies to counter the sophisticated tactics acquired by jihadi terrorists in a well-planned crucible.

The abstract of ideology intrigues everyone as it allows believers to make sense of the world around them. It arms them with values, moral frameworks, and the ability to understand and add meanings in relations. More so, the apparent contest of ideology brings a winning chance to local terrorists in their holistic approach not only to sow their goodwill in their own perspective as to give hope to the poor and neglected people of Mindanao but also their mastery of geography and training in urban warfare remain an advantage.      

With the global paradigm shifts of war studies to peace studies in trying to bridge the conflicting ideologues in military education, to some extent prescribing developmental dimensions as the key solution to the complex and changing security landscape, nonetheless, this rhetoric will not bring immediate stability in Marawi. Terrorists do not subscribe to either school of thought rather they will deconstruct the order in meeting the means to justify the end. Sowing terrorism breeds unethical norms at the expense of the populace that permeates disorder to unearth rancor and grievance to the misfortune of the government.

The synergy of action from the defense sector to professionalize the Philippine military is underscored to value higher education that must be based on wisdom that the security landscape requires a transformation in education and development of broad competencies. The dilemma of a war fighting and peace building formal education must transcend beyond the volatility of defense and security but rather it should emerge as a catalyst of change in protecting the survival of nations and peoples.

There are no good templates from around the world to substantiate the resolution of terrorism in Mindanao. The Marawi siege is a case of its own that must become a lesson to all that terrorism is indeed real in Southeast Asia and across the globe.