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Clear, present danger still


For now, the military can safely declare that the Islamic State (IS) threat has been safely contained and removed. But for how long?
Influential California-based think tank Rand Corp expects the terror threat to resurface in the country as it believes the IS is already thinking about how to regroup.
It seems Rand Corp.’s view is consistent with the belief of Rody that the IS is not done with its designs for the Philippines as he frequently expresses fears in his speeches that the threat would resurface in another place or region after declaring the liberation of Marawi City from the five-month IS occupation.
Rand estimates that the IS poured $2 million or about P100 million to sustain the five-month war against state forces.
The combined counter-offensive against the militants failed to recapture Marawi from a loose coalition of these Islamic State-linked factions, including the Abu Sayyaf Group and the Maute group, whose effectiveness was bolstered by Islamic State material support, Rand said.
“The Philippines fits the Islamic State’s template of seeking to instigate and latch onto existing ethnic conflicts with sectarian issues, with Muslims from the south competing with Christians from the predominantly Catholic north,” the think tank said.
Rand said the ability of the IS-inspired armed groups to last five months in holding on to Marawi City was notable despite intense assaults and heavy doses of firepower by Philippine security forces.
“The feat was even more impressive considering the counter-insurgent force included elite US-trained special operations forces, and reportedly US forces that operated quietly alongside them on the ground,” it said.
It, however, added that the situation on the ground in the southern Philippines is uncertain today.
It said looming insecurity and a humanitarian crisis will pose a major challenge to reconstruction efforts in Marawi, and extremism is likely to increase among the population in response to the bloody government counter terror campaign and threaten the peace process between Manila and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
Marawi, said Rand, may be a taste of things to come. With its Middle Eastern strongholds destroyed, the IS is likely to become more fragmented and to shift greater attention to new regions, from Southeast Asia to sub-Saharan Africa.
As the core Islamic State unravels, the Philippines is likely to continue to become increasingly useful to the group as a safety valve outside of the Middle East, it said.
The Philippines will remain a target for the setting up of an IS caliphate, according to Rand as it noted the country’s large Muslim population, the presence of pre-existing radical Islamist violent and non-violent fringe movements, the permissiveness of its formal and informal financial systems, weak local institutions and “a leader in Duterte who is heading an administration that has overseen a crisis in Marawi that has resulted in dozens of civilians killed and hundreds of thousands displaced.”
It also noted the current political dynamics in the US and the Philippines.
“Trump and Duterte dealing on terms that included a longer, more open-ended commitment of troops would be uncharacteristic for either leader. Both have demonstrated a preference for shorter, more decisive actions,” it said.
“Even if the Philippines fails to mature into a major node in the Islamic State’s protean global network, it will likely remain fertile ground for the future recruitment, financing and propagation of propaganda inspired by or directly supporting the Islamic State and its violent agenda,” the report noted.
What stands out in the Rand overview, which many in Washington refer to when it comes to policies overseas, was that the situation in Mindanao remains far from normal.
Rody had maintained that martial law remains a necessity to boost government efforts to regain normalcy in the region.
It appears that the effective policy that is evolving would be to maintain military rule until the pursued Federal State is in place and autonomy is granted to the troubled regions in Mindanao.
Such a timetable also would be fodder to the active yellow bid to oust Rody.


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