Speech at the General Consultative Assemblies for Muslim Youth

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Thank you very much, the Hon. Sec. Saidamen Pangarungan. It is indeed a distinct honor and privilege to be introduced by an innovative, progressive-minded leader. And with him at the helm, I’m sure the NCMF would be in good hands.

Our guests from the Japanese Embassy, Second Secretary Yoji Konno; our guests from the United Nations Development Programme; the other commissioners and other dignitaries present here; members of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos; to all the participants of today’s assembly, a pleasant morning. As-salaam aleikum.

Former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the founder of the project ‘Extremely Together’, an initiative which aims to bring together exceptional young leaders to prevent violent extremism, stated, and I quote:

“Young people should be at the forefront of global change and innovation. Empowered, they can be key agents for development and peace.”

This morning, I am honored to address present and future agents of peace and development who take the discourse to a greater height on one of the most critical issues of our present time–the risks of violent extremism.

Coming from the ranks of law enforcers, I have always been acquainted with the serious threats and challenges posed by the risks of terrorism and insurgency in our country.

Back in my days in the Philippine Constabulary, then one of the four major services of the AFP, which later became the Philippine National Police in 1991, my men and I were at the forefront in running after individuals and groups committing acts of banditry, insurgency, and other criminal activities.

Unfortunately, despite the continuous efforts of past and present governments to counter such security threats, recent events tell us that the Philippines remains bedeviled by senseless acts of violence and terror.

Figures between 1969 and 2010 show that our nation has suffered more than 593 attacks of varying degrees. From 2000 to 2007 alone, bomb attacks carried out by extremists claimed the lives of over 400 innocent civilians and injured over a thousand more.

The Global Terrorism Index of 2018 ranked the Philippines as the 10th country most negatively affected by terrorism. It pains us to see the Philippines in the list of top 10 countries including Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Syria, Pakistan, and Somalia. In fact, our country experienced the highest negative impact from terrorism among states in the Asia Pacific region.

In the case of Marawi alone, government reported the death of 900 Maute-ISIS affiliated fighters, 168 government forces, and 47 civilians. The total damage and lost opportunities cost is estimated at P18.23 billion. Said amount does not yet include the cost of war materiel and other combat service support operations, which was estimated at more than P6 billion. Post-war, the government’s conservative estimate for the cost of Marawi’s rehabilitation is pegged at P72.5 billion. Furthermore, the fighting in Marawi forced out 72,000 families or 359,000 individuals, many of who remain displaced to this day.

It is even dire and alarming that we have reports of emerging radicalization and extremist armed movements in some parts of our country. One of its visible manifestations was the first confirmed suicide bombing in Jolo in January of this year, which resulted in multiple deaths and injuries.

Unlike before wherein non-state armed groups undertake activities within secluded areas in the country, there is a new trend that haunts our security landscape – the use of social media to proliferate violent extremism ideologies.

In a report published by a non-profit international development organization in February 2019, it depicts how social media has become a potent tool, not only in spreading extremist causes but also in reaching and recruiting young Filipino Muslims in Mindanao.

Extremism sympathizers thrive and exploit the community’s sentiments on social marginalization, economic inequality, and rooted local grievances against the State.

Needless to say, I couldn’t agree more to the idea that now, more than ever, violent extremism must not be dealt solely with reactive means. A more circumspect and proactive approach in countering these threats and challenges is deemed imperative if we truly commit to the fight against extremism.

The first line of defense against violent extremism, I believe, is education. Creating awareness and cultivating our young people’s critical thinking and resilience will equip them with the skills they need to detect and reject violent extremism, make informed decisions, and contest extremist ideologies.

In order to give our children a more conducive environment to be educated, this representation, as the author and principal sponsor of the Anti-Terrorist Act of 2019 to amend the almost toothless and ineffective Human Security Act of 2007, a provision among others requiring schools, learning centers, and training institutions to promulgate rules and regulations to promote peace and inclusivity in such premises.

The same provision likewise imposes administrative as well as criminal sanctions to schools, learning centers, and training institutions found to be promoting or encouraging acts of violence, extremism, terrorist acts and other acts prohibited by the proposed law.

While terrorism and violent extremism continue to be a clear danger to the entire human race, we must not lower our guard to fight this new and emerging global phenomenon.

That said, allow me to congratulate the UNDP and the NCMF for venturing into this worthwhile partnership as we step up our efforts in addressing violent extremism and in promoting peace in our country.

I must say that this is a breath of fresh air to join the NCMF family beyond the corners of the Senate halls.

For three consecutive years that this representation has been working with the NCMF as sponsor of your budget in my capacity as Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, I have always recognized the critical role in preserving and developing the culture, traditions, institutions, and well-being of Muslim Filipinos geared towards national unity and development.

It is also worth mentioning that the NCMF is fortunate to have a visionary and innovative leader in the person of Secretary Pangarungan, who pursues proactive ways to improve the welfare of our Muslim community.

It is for these reasons that we continue our efforts in ensuring that the NCMF is equipped with sufficient resources as it fulfills its mandate. In fact, for this year, 2019, this representation has proposed the increase of P192 million in the budget of the NCMF.

The proposed increase is composed of additional P20 million for institutional support, development and promotion for Madrasah Education, Shari’ah Program and Qur’an competitions, and P172 million for Peace Initiatives and Conflict Resolution of the agency.

Increasing the appropriations for these programs sends a message of our support and commitment to advancing the well-being of our Muslim brothers and sisters.

May I also quickly share that I am pleased to be reunited with the progressive advocates from the UN’s leading global development network. I say without reservation that I am perpetually grateful to the UNDP and of course, JICA of Japan, for their unwavering support when we were brought together by an unprecedented and unfortunate event a few years back.

It was November 8, 2013 when category-five Super Typhoon Yolanda or Haiyan struck and brought massive destruction to 171 cities and municipalities in the country.

To everyone in this hall, it is indeed a privilege for me to join and speak before you today. It is an honor to be given the opportunity to share my insights on this timely and compelling issue.

I could not think of a more fitting way to end my message by sharing with you an excerpt from a historic speech delivered by Robert F. Kennedy. He stated and I quote:

“It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sets forth a tiny ripple of hope.”

Again, maraming salamat. Mabuhay po tayong lahat!