Nationalist People’s Coalition Congressman (NPC) Win Gatchalian advised the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) to take proactive measures to prevent terror attacks on Philippine soil similar to the ones launched in Indonesia’s capital Thursday.
“Now that the attacks hit much closer to home, it’s high time for authorities to shift from being reactive to taking proactive measures,” said Gatchalian, a majority member for the House committees on foreign affairs.
Eight people have died after suspected Islamic State militants launched a gun and bomb assault on Jakarta. Three of those killed were civilians.
Before the Jakarta attacks, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) reportedly gave a cryptic warning, with national police spokesperson Anton Charliyan telling a local radio station: “The warning said there will be a concert in Indonesia and it will be international news.”
Gatchalian, who has long before urged the government to join the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS amid the threat of existing extremist groups in Southeast Asia to congregate under the extremist organization, said it is no longer acceptable for the AFP to downplay the threat of the jihadist extremist organization.
“The AFP has no excuse anymore not to prepare for any possible attack by ISIS,” said Gatchalian.
The military earlier downplayed the warning by Rohan Gunaratna, head of the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research in Singapore and author of “Inside al-Qaeda,” who said that ISIS may soon create a “wilayat” or province in Mindanao.
The AFP had maintained that to date, there is no credible, verified and direct link established, and the possibility of establishing of a satellite is unlikely. “There remains no credible and direct connection to the bigger group in the Middle East up to this time,” AFP spokesperson Col. Restituto Padilla was quoted by news reports as saying.
Padilla issued such statement despite the circulation on Jan. 4 of a video showing Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, Ansar al-Khilafa leader Abu Sharifa, and other extremist leaders pledging allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
“The ISIS-initiated merger of the fighting formations and unifications of the leaders will present an unprecedented challenge to the Manila government,” warned Gunaratna. “In the Philippines, the next step ISIS is likely to take is the proclamation of wilayat Mindanao.”
Guaratna believes that with the proclamation of an ISIS branch in the southern Philippines, the ISIS influence and ideology is likely to grow, affecting both the southern Philippines and eastern Malaysia. “ISIS is likely to create a safe haven in Basilan and mount operations from the Sulu archipelago into both the Philippines and Malaysia,” he said.
Gatchalian warned that the military will be blamed for not being prepared enough in case a terror attack similar to Jakarta attack does materialize.
“Denying that extremist groups are coming together under the flag of a global terrorist is not going to help. Do not underestimate them. If an attack does happen, be it ISIS-inspired or ISIS-directed, the military will be blamed for not being on top of the situation. It is not wise to risk the lives of the Filipino people who trust in the military to protect them,” explained Gatchalian.
Ex-US army special operations operative Justin Richmond told Rappler that the AFP are “grossly incentivized” to not tell the truth “because any sort of rebel groups that are growing underneath their noses is a threat to their credibility and effectiveness. This is exactly the way ISIS grew. This is the way Boko Haram grew.”
Last year, Gatchalian called on the government to join the ranks of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS following a report by Reuters in November quoting Nur Jazlan Mohamed, Malaysia’s deputy home minister, as saying it is possible that terror attacks similar to those done in Paris can be launched by fighters coming back from Syria in Southeast Asia.
“Our government must consider being part of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS. We live in a very interconnected world and the terror attacks happening in one part of the globe may happen in our region, especially that we have a terror group in our own backyard that already swore allegiance to ISIS. The problem becomes bigger if the Abu Sayyaf joins forces with other militant groups to form an ISIS province in Southeast Asia,” Gatchalian pointed out.
Eight men, who were armed and carrying the flag of ISIS, were killed in an encounter with state troops in Sultan Kudarat in late November.
Gatchalian also recalled that there have been reports of two alleged fighters who died in Syria who were described as Abu Sayyaf member, while another dead fighter was described by a military source as coming from the Philippines. (Monica Cantilero)