Message at the Online Workshop Launching the Project, “Examining the Current Trends and Prospects of Violent Extremism in Southeast Asia”

President Sittie Aliah Lumbao, Sittie NB Pasandalan, to the members, officers, and partners of the Association of Lady Shari’ah Counselors-At-Law of the Philippines Inc (ALSCAP) who made this event possible, good morning to all.

Violent extremism is complex by nature, occurs in all societies and is not bound by religion, race, or social class. While it is mostly grounded in the name of ideologies, beliefs, and faiths, the drivers of extremism are evolving. There remains no universal explanation and hence, no universal response to this dilemma across the community of nations.

One thing is certain: How the government reacts to the presence of violent extremism determines the extent and magnitude of its spread in our country. In theory, extremism instantly refers to unrestrained fear, danger, and coercion. Yet again, there is no better way of characterizing so than witnessing the acts firsthand, within our borders.

We know extremists have profound hold in our society when they waged the Marawi siege, the longest urban battle in the country’s modern history where militants attempted to establish a caliphate in the city; when a foreign suicide bomber detonated a bomb inside the Jolo Cathedral in Sulu in 2019; and when, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the terrorist-proscribed Abu Sayyaf Group killed 11 soldiers and injured 14 more in an hour-long gun battle in Patikul, Sulu.

The 2019 Global Terrorism Index reported that although the number of total deaths from terrorism has fallen compared to previous years, its impact remains widespread, with bombings and armed assaults as the most common types of terrorist attacks over the past years. In 2018, 71 countries recorded at least one death from terrorism, which was the second-highest number of countries since 2002. Lest we forget, the same report cites the Philippines as the only Southeast Asian country that ranked in the top ten countries that were most negatively impacted by terrorism.

Over time, violent extremism continues to evolve in the same way that the threats and environments change. The United Nations Development Programme highlights that this fact is demonstrated by transnational movement of people, access to money and information, shrinking of political spaces and freedoms, and polarization of views and intolerance of different identities. Most compellingly, at our time, extremism has progressed with the unprecedented digital growth.

We need not go far – our experiences from the Marawi siege tell us that the perpetrators have learned to adapt to modern technology. Based on the reports of our security officers, the attack in the city was purportedly planned, staged, and sustained through the unconstrained terrorism financing using wire transfers from overseas, cash couriers, and even mobile payments.

We recognize that terrorism, in all forms and manifestations, constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security and that any acts of terrorism are utterly criminal and unjustifiable – whenever, wherever and by whomsoever committed. The diffusion and gravity of these acts highlight the legal weaknesses of the recently repealed Human Security Act of 2007. Hence, we sought to respond to our legal deficiencies with the wisdom and rationale of having a more effective legal weapon that is at par with those in other jurisdictions in fighting and preventing terrorism.

It is time that our country should stop being the safe haven of terrorists in Asia, primarily because of our weak laws against acts of terrorism. The Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 seeks to plug these loopholes and to establish our swift, effective, and constitutional policy that is responsive to the evolving drivers and mechanisms of terrorism. Fundamentally, it gives us the legal backbone to face the dangers and threats of extremism that we have undermined in the past.

With this landmark legislation and the hopes of employing cognitive psychology, behavioral economics and social sciences to improve our understanding about radicalization and extremism — the most recent agenda of the UN’s International Hub on Behavioral Insights to Counter Terrorism — we hope to strengthen our guards to weed out terrorism that has made its roots into our motherland.

Each of us participating in this gathering today has contributed some good to make our country a safer place to live in. But we need to have a more responsive, stringent, and enduring strategy to make our efforts last. As long as the threats and dangers persist against our sovereignty and the innocent people we seek to protect, we should strive to work as peace-loving members of our nation.

Again, thank you and may you have a meaningful event.