The foiled Abu Sayyaf attack on tourist destination Bohol reminds us not only of the terror in our midst but of the many things we tend to take for granted.
We take for granted community vigilance, which the Bohol incident highlighted, when Boholano children first noticed the arrival of pump boats carrying strangers and what appeared to be sacks of rice, that later turned out to be firearms.
We take for granted terrorism’s ubiquity, that it knows no boundaries. A terror plot in central Philippines should no longer surprise us, given the previous attacks we have witnessed in Manila, key urban centers and popular resorts, and how technology has made it easier for seemingly disparate forces to come together for a cause.
An Associated Press story said 3 extremists groups that have pledged their allegiance to ISIS were behind the Bohol assault. They reportedly deployed their leading bombers, some of whom were said to be wearing ISIS-style black flag patches.
The Philippines has been a hotbed of terrorism for decades now, serving both as a recruitment base and a transit point in Southeast Asia. In the last couple of years, local militants have pledged allegiance to ISIS, which we reported in 2016 to be planning to declare its own “province” in Mindanao.
Early this year, we revealed that a Filipino millennial had joined ISIS and was featured in a propaganda video urging Muslims to join the cause if not in Syria then in the Philippines.
We sometimes take these pieces of information for granted, because often our own government wants us to believe that the illegal drug trade is our biggest, most sophisticated, most pressing problem.
There is a clearer and more present danger.
Consider this: the Abu Sayyaf and its layers of civilian support are getting the beating in Sulu, as the military strives to meet a deadline imposed on them by President Rodrigo Duterte to crush the terror group.
We should expect the local terrorists to bring the war somewhere else in the meantime, to ease military pressure on them. They have networks to tap outside Western Mindanao, such as ISIS-inspired groups in Central Mindanao or individual recruits elsewhere. They have the cold cash for it – no thanks to the failure (or connivance?) of local officials in stopping Sulu as the world’s ransom capital.
But in the end, their biggest advantage would be a government security apparatus in disarray or confused about its priorities.
The challenge, as has been proven in how the Bohol attack was frustrated, is for the Duterte administration to do more painstaking but quiet intelligence work and drop those silly, unrealistic deadlines that may just create unintended consequences. – Rappler.com
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