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Fighting terror

The past week has been horrific.

First, 49 people were killed by a gunman in Orlando, Florida in what authorities described as acts of terror and hate. The American-born assassin allegedly pledged allegiance to the terrorist group ISIS in a 911 call during the cowardly attack that is regarded as the deadliest mass shooting in the US and its worst terror attack since the 9/11 attacks.

Second, French authorities have labelled as a terrorist act the fatal stabbing of a police officer and his partner in Paris. Police authorities have claimed that the attack was “ISIS-inspired”.

Lastly here at home, the kidnap-for-ransom group, Abu Sayyaf, beheaded its second Canadian hostage after the deadline for the payment of ransom had passed. This is the second beheading by the Islamist militant group following the death of the first Canadian hostage in April. Both Philippine and Canadian governments have condemned the acts of terror and vowed to pursue the criminal elements.

These three horrific incidents and the other acts of terror in the past (particularly the Paris attacks in November 2015) have focused global attention on the growing danger of terrorism and the ways it can be addressed.

Terrorism is not a new phenomenon. It has existed for as long as humans discovered their ability to inflict violence and fear on fellow humans. But the recent surge of terrorism is new in the sense that it is being “exported” globally and the use of modern communications technology to spread a misplaced ideology.

Despite this, we need to go back to the basics as civilized nations attempt to defeat the global terror networks. I believe that a key strategy should be addressing the conditions that allow the foundation and growth of terrorism – poverty.

All my life, personally and professionally, I have always waged a war against poverty. As a young man who experienced an impoverished life early on, I struggled to get an education and to put up a business in order to get out of poverty.

As a public servant for more than 20 years, I dedicated my efforts to providing our people with the opportunity to pull themselves out of impoverishment. This has been my life-long crusade because I believe that all the other evils of society flows from poverty – injustice, corruption, immorality and the like.

In the Philippines, the local terror groups take advantage of the deprivation of our countrymen to pursue their evil deeds. For this reason, I have always advocated that any attempts to forge peace in the country – whether with the Muslim rebels or the Communist guerillas – require an accompanying strategy to defeat poverty.

We need an approach that can provide jobs and livelihood to our people. Our government needs to prioritize infrastructure, agricultural modernization and rural development in conflict areas and in the poorest regions of the country.

Complementing this anti-poverty approach is the need to modernize the military. The Philippines has made great strides in recent years but such efforts are largely insufficient given the threats brought about by our territorial disputes with China and the growing dangers of regional and global terrorism. We need to provide our military with the resources – firepower, communications and intelligence capabilities to combat terrorists.

This two-pronged strategy should also include improved multilateral cooperation on various fronts including disrupting terrorists funding, intelligence and communications and counterterrorism training.

This is especially urgent because of recent reports that ISIS has started to gain ground in Mindanao. For instance, reports indicate that the new head of the Abu Sayyaf has been appointed as ISIS leader in the Philippines.

The fear among counter-terrorism analysts is that Mindanao will become the regional base for terrorists where they can train before spreading terror in the region. There have been many reports of foreign terrorists setting foot in Mindanao.

Remember that Zulkifli bin Hir was killed during the Mamasapano incident. He was regarded as an important actor among terrorist groups in the Philippines and even in Indonesia.

Our newly elected government officials have their work cut out for them, not just in terms of securing economic growth but in securing the lives of millions of Filipinos. It is a more complicated world now, one that requires resolve and creative approaches.

Development, after all, does not only mean freedom from hunger and poverty but also freedom from fear.

(For comments/feedback email to: mbv.secretariat@gmail or visit www.mannyvillar.com.ph.) (Senator Manny Villar)