Is PH safer from terror threat 20 years after 9/11?


Twenty years after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and commercial airline flights in the United States that killed 2,996 people, Filipinos join the rest of the world in reflecting on the continuing threats posed by terrorism.

In July last year, Congress passed Republic Act No. 11479, the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 that replaced the Human Security Act of 2007. Thirty-seven petitions have been filed with the Supreme Court seeking to strike down this new law.

Chief concern is the removal of a previous safeguard against wrongful detention and the creation of the Anti-Terrorism Council that is perceived to pose a threat to human rights. Incidents of Red-tagging against human rights and activist groups, including well- known show business personalities apparently fueled the opposition to the new law.

The five-month long siege of Marawi City in 2017 staged by militants associated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), including the Maute and Abu Sayyaf was the “longest urban battle in the modern history of the Philippines. Although it resulted in a “decisive victory for government forces” after five months of intense fighting, the long term scarring effects on the people’s sense of security could not be minimized. The government’s martial law declaration over the entire Mindanao area was not lifted until the end of 2019 or 953 days later.

The formal establishment of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao in January 2019 is widely believed to be a stabilizing factor after decades of violent conflict. While observers cite the difficulty of coalition building among erstwhile rival factions, hopes remain high that, especially with robust support from friendly nations, the peace dividends will produce long-term stability in the five provinces of Basilan, Cotabato, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

Before the Marawi siege, the “deadliest terrorist attack in the Philippines” killed 130 persons aboard an interisland vessel that had just left Manila Bay en route to Cagayan de Oro City on February 27, 2004.

Active support from the United States government as shown during the Marawi siege, along with surveillance assistance from Australia, are vital factors in enabling the government to maintain the upper hand as terror elements continually to lurk. These two countries maintain defense agreements with the Philippines.

While the threat of local communist insurgency may have been reduced significantly, sporadic attacks continue in the countryside.

While the fight against global terror threats is being carried out principally by national governments, countries are also recognizing the need for community-based approaches that increase the awareness and vigilance of citizens to the possible intrusion of radical elements that could escalate their activities and sow violence.

The takeaways from the 9/11 catastrophe are clear. Terrorism has deep roots that could take decades to upend. All countries and peoples of the world who disdain terrorism need to exercise constant vigilance and foster solidarity.