By Alito L. Malinao*
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Sept 7, 2017
He may not be aware of it, but in proposing a meeting among leaders of Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia to talk about the creeping Islamic radicalism in the region, President Duterte is somehow reviving the Maphilindo concept that was initiated in the 1960s by then President Diosdado Macapagal.
In recent remarks in Malacañang, Mr. Duterte said he and Indonesian President Widodo had agreed to meet but Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak had yet to confirm his attendance.
According to Mr. Duterte, the three leaders should discuss “this new phenomenon of international terrorism.”
If the meeting pushes through, history will be repeating itself. In July 1963, Macapagal convened a summit in Manila among the leaders of the three countries that resulted in the forming of a grouping called Maphilindo (for Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia). The objective was to solve problems common to the three countries through cooperative efforts.
The contentious issue at that time was the impending merger of the former British colonies of North Borneo and Sarawak with the then emerging Federation of Malaysia.
Because the union was perceived as a ploy by the Philippines and Indonesia to hinder the formation of the Federation of Malaysia, it died a natural death one month after its creation.
With a different scenario at present, Mr. Duterte is proposing a tripartite approach to solve the Islamic State’s inroads in the region.
Actually, cooperation among the three countries has started. Last June, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia launched joint maritime patrols to combat terrorism and other transnational crimes.
Today they have a bigger problem to grapple with after the siege of Marawi City on May 23 by local Moro terrorists who have sworn loyalty to the IS.
In an article in the online news magazine Asean Today, Oliver Ward said at least 60 groups in Southeast Asia have pledged allegiance to the IS and that the Philippines is the “fulcrum” of their activities. According to Ward, a video last year from the IS propaganda wing called on supporters who could not make the trip to Syria “to head to the Philippines instead, promoting the country as a go-to destination for extremists.”
“No other countries in the region are receiving the same level of promotion as the Philippines. In other Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia, [the IS] directly recruits from the local population,” Ward said.
He said the central IS command in Syria has funneled tens of thousands of dollars to fighters in the Philippines in the last 12 months.
Recent issues of Rumiyah, the monthly IS propaganda publication, have praised insurgents fighting the Philippine military in the region, giving them valuable publicity within extremist circles.
Ward said the arrival of foreign fighters in the Philippines is not a new phenomenon. He said extremists had been entering the country as early as 2014. In June of that year, the Philippines arrested Uyghur militants with ties to local armed groups in Manila. Zulkifli bin Har, a Malaysian fighter, was also killed in January 2015 in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.
Researchers from the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research in Singapore revealed the ease with which a foreign jihadist could enter the Philippines. They said that for as little as US$117, a prospective IS militant could buy passage to the Philippines and receive a complimentary weapon.
What happened in Marawi should serve as a wake-up call to other heads of state in the region because this can and will occur in other Asean countries unless they come together to tackle the problem collectively.
Thus, Mr. Duterte is on the right track to seek the cooperation of Malaysia and Indonesia in thwarting Islamic radicalism in the region, the Maphilindo way.
*Alito L. Malinao is a former diplomatic reporter and news editor of the Manila Standard. Now teaching journalism at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, he is the author of the book “Journalism for Filipinos.”