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Mapping The Future

External factors and the rise of domestic terrorism

03:02 AM July 03, 2017

Last Feb. 6, 2017, I wrote an article titled “Stopping the scourge of terror: The biggest challenge of 2017” under this MAPping the Future column of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP). Three months later, on May 23, 2017, the outbreak of violence and terrorism in Marawi City, which continues up to the present, gave credence to my observations. The coverage of this article is to examine the external factors that may have a bearing on the rise of terrorism.

From a broad view, the political and economic interest of superpowers dominate the agenda on world affairs. They project their power through various means, and expand their influence by strengthening identified allies. This building of alliances takes on the form of support in one form or another, be it economic aid, defense agreements, intelligence and operational exchanges, logistical support for the military and the like.

In the same vein, sanctions are imposed on countries that do not share their interests.


The United States exemplifies this power-building mode as seen in its relationship with the Philippines, Asean, Australia and New Zealand. There is a tendency by the superpower to apply calibrated pressure to bring about an implicit message for countries taking adversarial position, or if their political and economic interests are threatened.

The management of terrorism is one area that deserves scrutiny, especially with the unstoppable escalation of violence. There seems to be an invisible hand that may be orchestrating these unfavorable events. Do these superpowers really have altruistic intentions, or are they using terrorism as a tool to leave a country in limbo?

The Philippines has for too long been a victim of the terrorism scenario. Time and again, it has applied the necessary measures to manage crisis after crisis. But through the years, a pattern emerges: after a lull, a new form of violence erupts without any warning. Are the internal mechanisms being applied by the Philippines insufficient to neutralize these occurrences and frustrate the growth and development of terrorist intentions?

A close look at specific cases can give us some answers and point the way forward.

a. From 1994-1998, the United States supported the Taliban as a tool of sustained and directed involvement in the region. It supported Taliban militia and conducted publicized visits of US officials from Washington. The importance of the region to the US arises mainly from its location as the confluence of major routes, a strategic boundary between land and sea power, and the all-important building of a multi-billion dollar oil pipeline to the north of Afghanistan by US-led group. It is one of the world’s wealthiest oil fields. According to Amnesty International, “Many Afghanistan analysts believe that the US has had close political links with the Taliban”.

b. The Marawi incident, and all the other terrorists perpetrated attacks in the past, reveal a common pattern and behavior. They have high-powered and sophisticated firearms in their arsenal, with unlimited supply of ammunition that can square off with the combined AFP-PNP force. They have the capability to feed, clothe, and arm a sizeable number of terrorists, including the daily sustenance of their families. The resources, generated through unscrupulous and criminal means to include drugs, are but a miniscule part relative to their sheer overall strength. It is very apparent that these capabilities originate from external sources, directly or indirectly from Middle Eastern countries acting as surrogates of superpowers. The presence of US agents in almost all major crises is something to ponder and give us pause to rethink our base assumptions.

c. In the 1980s, a secret “university” known as Dawak al-Jihad functioned as a major terrorist group training almost 20,000 mujahedeen from 40 countries, including the Philippines. The Filipinos were headed by Abdurayak Janjalani, and became the nucleus of the Abu Sayyaf which has perpetrated all major terrorist atrocities in Mindanao, particularly the Ipil massacre in 1995, the Zamboanga siege, and its participation in the Mamasapano fiasco.

The Abu Sayyaf had already inspired fear and perpetrated atrocities even before it pledged its fealty to the ISIS in September 2014. Its influence and direct support have emboldened other terrorist groups, spilling over to groups like the BIFF, Ansar, Al-Khilafah, and most recently, the Maute group. The Islamic State has become the first jihad terror group to rule over a wide expanse of territory over an extended time period. It has used the loyalty of Jihads outside its domain in Libya, Nigeria, and even found an equally zealous group in the Philippines.


A jihad mind-set has already crept into the various local threat groups. They have manifested an attitude of extremism that provides the well-spring and the momentum to continue its offensive actions. Military operations may destroy the armed elements but if even a shred of the root remains, it will eventually spring up again. The jihad mind set will feed these roots and nurture them into renewed terrorist activities in due time.

The question that we should ask is now is this: How extensive is the external interference, and how can we contain and neutralize this invisible hand?

Every crisis brings out the best in the institutions tasked to secure our sovereignty as well as the distinct leadership qualities of its leaders and commanders. The AFP and the PNP have proved their professionalism once again. The Commander-In-Chief has shown his decisive leadership and combat fighting form. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of some local officials. They lack the professional knowledge, the attitude to achieve and the stability under pressure.

As the conflict dies down and before it recovers its steam, let us pause and reflect on the following questions.

a. Is there a superpower connect? All protracted uprisings in history that cut across ideologies are recipients of external power and influence.

b. Can the Philippines face off squarely against the tentacles of a superpower to deny their interference?

Some countries that used to be part of the developed nations grouping were reduced to third-world status because they got the ire of a superpower. Libya, once a developed country, was reduced to rubble due to the clash of interests of the superpowers. It may be speculative but it may be good to consider that the warming relations with China and animosity created by the President towards the US and its former President, may be a factor. The US can be silent but it always carries a big stick. This is no time for naiveté, for brandishing the banners of nationalism and patriotism will not be sufficient to ward off external political pressure.

“Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful, and murder respectable, and so give an appearance of solidarity to pure wind.”—George Orwell

Some references of this paper were based on the “War on Truth” by Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed. Anatomy of Terrorism and ISIS by Robert Spencer.

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