Martial law ‘is helping us fight terrorism more effectively’

Philippines Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana. (AP)
Updated 10 December 2018

Martial law ‘is helping us fight terrorism more effectively’

  • Filipino congress asked to extend reign of martial law on the troubled island a third time
  • Philippines defense secretary says martial law in Mindanao has curtailed terrorist capabilities

MANILA: Philippines Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has defended his recommendation to extend the implementation of martial law on Mindanao island for another year, saying it is the only way to quell terrorism in the country. 

“National security is contingent on being able to protect people from threats,” said Lorenzana, who acknowledged that the Philippines continues to face internal security issues thanks to communist insurgencies and violent extremism.

He was speaking at a forum organized by the Filipino Stratbase ADR Institute for Strategic and International Studies in Makati on the outskirts of the Filipino capital, Manila.

On Monday, Lorenzana, a member of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and other top security officials briefed senators in a closed-door meeting on the situation in Mindanao before putting forth the recommendation.

The lawmakers, however, are still divided on the issue.

“The Duterte administration is putting in place a comprehensive strategy to address terrorism and violent extremism,” he said, adding that the five-month armed conflict waged by security forces against ISIL last year in Marawi, the capital of one of the Philippine’s several provinces, would not happen again.

President Rodrigo Duterte first imposed martial law when the Marawi siege broke out. After a 60-day grace period, the president asked for a five-month extension, which was granted by congress.

Even after the president declared Marawi liberated from terrorists in October 2017, he had made a second request to extend martial law at the time.

Lorenzana said the military conducted ground operations against the ISIL-affiliated Abu Sayyaf group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and pro-ISIL group Dawlah Islamiya. He went as far as saying that the “significant success” they have had countering such groups was down to declaring martial law on the island in the first place.

“The capabilities of threat groups have been significantly curtailed since there has been less threat-initiated violence and fewer kidnappings,” said Lorenzana in Friday’s forum. “Several guerrilla fronts were cleared and firearms recovered. Vital infrastructure was secured and government approval rates have since gone up.”

He added that martial law enabled law enforcement agencies, local officials and the military to coordinate, collaborate and communicate efficiently and effectively. 

Lorenzana told reporters that putting the island under martial law would help address terrorism in the whole of the southern Philippines, adding that they would also deploy an entire military division to the province of Jolo, Sulu to address problems in and around the area.

"If our laws were stricter, we could have done without martial law,” he said, adding that it should always be a last resort for governments.

Lorenzana told reporters that between five and 10 expat extremists renowned for their bomb-making skills are believed to have entered the country from the south. 

“The foreign extremists don’t look Arab,” he said. “They are more likely Asians, particularly from Malaysia and Indonesia, who have mingled with the local terror groups.”

The AFP has expressed confidence that the recommendation would surpass any legal scrutiny.

“We leave the final decision to the discretion of lawmakers,” said Noel Detoyato, chief of the AFP public affairs.


Panic grips Kashmir after internet crackdown

Updated 21 sec ago

Panic grips Kashmir after internet crackdown

  • Authorities use UAPA charges against those ‘misusing’ social media

NEW DELHI: When Yahia Mir steps outside of his home in Srinagar in Indian-administered Kashmir, he is careful to leave his smartphone behind. 

The 23-year-old journalism student from Kashmir University explained that he does so because he is scared of security forces discovering the Virtual Private Network (VPN) installed on his mobile phone.

Recently, Mir (not his real name) said, a friend of his was assaulted by officials who found a VPN on his phone.

“Everyone in the valley uses a VPN to connect with the outside world,” Mir told Arab News on Wednesday. “Tell me, how do you expect life to be normal when there is no internet?” 

The disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir has been under curfew following New Delhi’s annulment of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution — which guaranteed special autonomy to Kashmir, parts of which are governed in part by both India and Pakistan, but all of which is claimed by both countries to belong to them.

Since the Indian government annulled Article 370, there has been a crackdown on mobile and Internet services in the valley which, to date, have only been partially restored.

To get around the internet ban many in the valley turned to proxy networks, which allow users to anonymously connect with a third-person server outside of Kashmir.

On Tuesday, in a renewed crackdown, the Indian government filed charges against people “misusing” social media.

Local police in Srinagar registered cases against various unnamed individuals under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), a draconian law that means anyone charged cannot seek bail for six months.

Police said that action would be taken against those who misused social-media sites to propagate “secessionist ideology and (promote) unlawful activities.”

“There have been continuous reports of misuse of social media sites by the miscreants to propagate secessionist ideology and to promote unlawful activities,” Jammu and Kashmir police said in a statement released on Tuesday, which went on to say that the “miscreants” were “propagating rumors with regard to the current security scenario of the Kashmir valley … and glorifying terror acts/ terrorists. 

“A lot of incriminating material has also been seized in this regard.” A First Information Report (FIR) has been registered against the “miscreants.”

Mir told Arab News that this is “the government’s new way to terrorize the people of Kashmir.”

Legal professional Deeba Ashraf said the crackdown feels “as if we are living in the 19th century.”

She told Arab News: “My profession demands that I remain updated about recent cases and case laws. How is that possible without the internet?” She added that “even security personnel” in the valley are using VPNs.

“I have lost trust in the government and I don’t see which way Kashmir is going,” she continued. “The government’s crackdown scares everyone. But I wonder does the government have any policy for Kashmir besides lockdown?”

Computer engineer Muddasir (not his real name) agreed.

“Most of the people who needed the Internet for their professional survival have left the valley,” he said. “I am also thinking of leaving Srinagar to escape the prison that we are in. The sense of fear is so strong. Imagine: Security forces are checking your phone and trying to see what apps are on (it). Is this normal?”

Iltiza Mufti, daughter of the detained former Chief Minister of Kashmir Mehbooba Mufti, strongly condemned the government’s measures.

“The rest of the country — and the envoys who visited Kashmir — were told that we enjoy equal rights, but in reality you can’t even use VPN in Kashmir. What rights do Kashmiris have right now?” she asked in a press conference in Delhi on Tuesday.

“The clampdown in Kashmir (is taking a huge toll) and Jammu and Kashmir is grappling with an economic, psychological and emotional crisis,” added Mufti, who has become the face of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) after her mother’s arrest last year.

Srinagar-based political analyst and writer, Gowhar Geelani, told Arab News: “This is an official admission by the Indian government of thought control of the entire population of Kashmir. This is a war against the people of Kashmir. The arrest of the three former chief ministers of the state and the detention of other political activists show that, in Kashmir, the only opinion that matters is the opinion of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).”

Geelani added that there are “darker days ahead and not much hope.”