The linkages between international terrorism and organized crime are well established in the Philippines. The Abu Sayyaf Group, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), the Maute Group, and Ansar al Khalifa – who have all declared allegiance to the Islamic State –fund their operations through criminal activities, mostly drug trafficking, kidnapping, extortion, and arms smuggling. They initially cooperated with criminal organizations; but have since developed their own criminal networks which operate under the false rubric of freedom struggles, covering themselves with the mantle of victims of human rights and of religious conscience violations whenever the state moves against them to protect its citizens.
The Marawi siege of 2017 illustrates the symbiotic relationship between terrorism and the illegal drug trade. With drug money, terrorists gathered a motley assortment of well-armed extremists, criminals, mercenaries, and foreign terrorist fighters to take control of Marawi. Narco-politicians supported the local terrorist groups with personnel, funds and firearms that helped sustain the siege that followed the government’s counter offensive. Intensive military and law enforcement operations allowed us to recapture Marawi in 6 months; less than the 6 years it took the West to recapture Raqqa.
Beyond law enforcement and military operations, a comprehensive approach is needed to address the linkages between terrorism-organized crime. On the political level, we now have the Bangsamoro Organic Law, which gives autonomy to Muslim Mindanao and is intended to end the decades-long conflict in that region that has been used by the Abu Sayyaf and local terrorist groups as a freedom struggle. It was anything but that. We are also amending our Human Security Act to make it more responsive to these linkages.
Drug trafficking offers a profitable illicit revenue stream. The drug trade weakens social resistance and corrupts a political response. It is known that local terrorist group members are both narcotics distributors or dealers and consumers. Shabu is frequently used for recruitment. And the shabu trade is primarily run by organized crime groups, illustrating the cooperation between terrorist groups and local and transnational criminal organizations. They have learned the lesson of the Opium Trade whereby Britain subdued a once-proud continent-sized country to its will. Hence our anti-drug operations target the trade.
Since money is the main driver of these linkages, identifying and curtailing the sources of finance and tracking the flow are essential. Financial intelligence units, law enforcement agencies, the prosecution service and local government units must work together, share information with each other, and raise awareness. The public sector, as appropriate, must also work closely with the private sector.
Intelligence gathering can be more effective if agencies focus not only on terrorist acts per se but more so on the means that enable them.
At the sub-regional level, we conduct joint maritime patrols with Malaysia and Indonesia over our tri-border region of Southern Philippines, east Malaysia and Sulawesi, to strengthen border controls, especially in the light of the Abu Sayyaf Group’s trademark transnational kidnap-for-ransom operations which took the life of the Dutchman Ewald Horn.
At the regional level, the ASEAN Comprehensive Plan of Action on Counter Terrorism provides for the establishment of computerized shared databases on terrorist organizations and their associations as well as transnational organized crime groups with possible links to terrorist organizations with a view to developing a joint risk and threat assessment.
Here at the UN and at the international level, more exchanges of best practices and capacity building are needed for law enforcement and financial intelligence units. We recall that elements of the UN’s counterterrorism group came to us 3 weeks before Marawi fell to warn us that the defeated Islamic state in the Middle East would attempt to revive its Caliphate in Southeast Asia.
Our counter-terrorism efforts are anchored on respecting human rights because a state’s first, foremost and overriding responsibility is to protect the law-abiding against the lawless; and the innocent against those threatening their safety and wellbeing. To that responsibility the President of the Philippines has made an iron, unwavering and total commitment. And he will not be deterred by criticism.
Thank you, Mr. President.