By Francisco Tuyay, Sara Susanne Fabunan, Florante Solmerin and Macon R. Araneta Publish in Manila Standard Today
Amid persistent reports on active recruitment
A national police official said on Thursday that persistent reports of the Islamic State members recruiting in the country is considered as ‘raw information.’ Philippine National Police Spokesman Chief Supt. Reuben Theodore Sindac, however, assured the public that the police are continuously monitoring the situation.
“We are continuously monitoring. Our Directorate for Intelligence, as of now, is verifying reports of ISIS recruitment, but they considered it raw information,” he said.
Reports of IS recruitment in the country emerged after Foreign Affairs Department spokesman Charles Jose admitted that they sent a memorandum to Malacanang two Filipino militants fought alongside Syrian IS forces and were later killed.
The same memo said that at least 100 Filipino militants trained in Iran, purportedly before they are sent to Syria. Jose, however, said they have yet to verify the veracity of the memo.
The leaked memo drew a strong protest from the Iranian Embassy in Manila, which sent a note verbale to the DFA, denying that Iran was used as a training ground for Filipino militants bound for Syria.
The incident was followed by reports attributed to former military chief and president Fidel Ramos and Davao City Rodrigo Duterte, who both said that they received intelligence reports about IS recruitment in the country.
Mayor Joel Maturan of Unkaya Pukan, Basilan also claimed that IS supporters were actively recruiting not only in his town but also in the towns of Sumisip, Tipo-tipo, Al Barka and Akbar.
Only recently, former PNP Intelligence Director Rodolfo “Boogie” Mendoza claimed that the ISIS influence and reach was evident as early as 2006.
Mendoza said that eight years ago, the ISIS, led by its supreme religious leader Aby Bakr Al-Baghdadi, sent a communiqué to the Jemaah Islamiya and Khalifa in Mindanao, which both had links with Al-Qaeda.
But Sindac suggested that Muslim militants may have been using the ISIS ‘bandwagon’ to entice more youths to join their groups.
This was the same sentiment expressed by no less than President Benigno Aquino III in his speech in New York
Aquino said the recent bombings and kidnappings in southern Philippines were the handiwork of Muslim militants such as the Abu Sayyaf and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, and not part of the recruitment programs of the IS.
“It seems they’re still the same groups that we’ve been troubling about: Abu Sayyaf and maybe the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters are doing basically the same things, but now attributing it to their joining ISIS, which doesn’t necessarily mean that they are ISIS,” Aquino said.
Aquino made the statement in denying that foreign jihadists had already reached the country and are actively recruiting Filipino militants to their cause.
He added that there was no ‘hard’ evidence that Filipinos had actually been recruited by IS jihadists despite the number of photographs and videos showing known Filipino extremists pledging allegiance to the terror group.
Still, Sindac tried to allay fears of the public on the possibility of the ISIS recruiting members in the country.
“The public and our countrymen have nothing to fear if they (ISIS) are in the country and are recruiting,” Sindac said.
The military also made the same denial on the alleged IS recruitment.
“Wala po ang presence ng ISIS dito sa Pilipinas sa ngayon,” said Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala of the military’s Public Affairs Office.
Meanwhile, a ‘security expert’ within the military broached the idea that the ISIS or IS (Islamic State) has been introducing its ‘ideology’ through cyberspace, while calling those who subscribes to it as “jihobbyists.”
The same expert claimed that the idea of full-pledged IS members actually doing the recruitment in the country is “ridiculous.”
“Our intelligence capability is not that bad. In fact, we’ve already deported two foreign nationals with IS jihad orientations,” the source said.
He was referring to Musa Cerantonio, an Australian national who arrived in the country On July 11, in Cebu and was subsequently arrested for actively promoting “inspirations” in support of the IS in Syria in Iraq using the social media.
Another suspected ISIS supporter identified as Dr. Abu Ameen Bilal Philipps, a Canadian, was arrested in Davao City.
Both were later deported by the Bureau of Immigration.
“The IS has been using the boundless cyberspace to recruit members from around the world especially in countries like ours where there are Islam fundamentalists or radicals. Not even advanced countries can stop that, say the United States which has its very own Edward Snowden,” the expert said.
Citing a monitoring report from the intelligence community, the expert said there are 15,000 “likers” to jihadist ideology being promoted by IS through Facebook.
But when the accounts of the ‘likers’ were scrutinized, the majority turned out to be fake and duplicates.
The expert said the target of cyber recruitment by the IS are the youth which show interest in the group’s ideology and enticed by the promise of money, sophisticated firearm and dowry.
As this developed, residents in Marawi City said on Thursday that two suspected ISIS operatives were seen leading a symposium among young Moslems at an Islamic center on September 19, said to be a part of a recruitment process by the international terrorist group.
The two ISIS operatives reportedly wore white and black hooded outfits and were seen in two leaked photos shown in a news night episode, participating to what appeared to be a recruitment activity inside the Mosque.
In one of the photos, one of the suspected ISIS member was seen yelling at a crowd while standing with his closed fists raised, while another ISIS member was carrying an ISIS flag.
Sr. Supt Abner Wahab Santos, Marawi City police chief admitted that they have monitored the gathering of Moslems at a mosque but has yet to validate if there were indeed ISIS members inside.
Santos said they are now tracking the suspected ISIS members.
Meanwhile, the Bangsamoro National Transformation Council (BNTC), a newly formed Muslim group advocating for peaceful revolution in Mindanao expressed fears on the severe impact of the ISIS recruitment in the region.
BNTC Chairman, Benjamin Andong said that the ISIS will have a serious impact on the peace and order situation in Mindanao with the formation of a separate group in the aftermath of the Bangsamoro Basic Law.
“In the event that the entire membership of the MILF will not be accommodated to the Bangsamoro Government following its passage, the remnants will be joining to the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and so with the MNLF of Muslimin Sema and the faction of the MNLF of Nur Misuari for the formation of a new group,” Andong said.
He said the ISIS has serious talks with the BIFF which could pose wider security threat in Mindanao.