Enlisting civil society in combating terrorism

(Speech delivered by Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin Jr. at the 20th Asean Plus Three Foreign Ministers’ Meeting held on August 2, 2019 in Bangkok, Thailand)

Mr. Chair, on the last day, allow me to express my delegation’s appreciation for the excellent arrangements laid out by our host in the past week. The Kingdom never ceases to amaze us with its warm and gracious hospitality. It felt like a weeklong family gathering—and we know what that can be like just over a weekend.

On Preventing and Countering Terrorism and Violent Extremism the Philippines commends the Asean Regional Forum for promoting cooperation and dialogue to address this issue. Recent terrorist attacks in Jolo, Christchurch, and Sri Lanka scream the need for them.

The fast mutating nature and the transnational—because religious—character of terrorism and violent extremism make it a matter of life and death to cooperate to counter them; to stamp them out; and in the brief intervals of safety to study the underlying soil that welcomes the seed and encourages the growth and contagion of an essentially personal decision to do evil.

Where minds are still open, we should spread counter-narratives to messages of hate, murder and mayhem. Where minds are closed; we must meet them with force when attacked by force; with the truth when attacked by lies. Lies spread by well-meaning civil society more anxious about misunderstanding terrorists than stopping them on the off-chance they might be reformed. Civil society is more anxious about missing the chance to save a terrorist life than stopping him from taking scores of innocent lives. There is no doubt about the persuasive power of civil society; it has convinced world opinion that those who fight terrorism must have their hands tied; and that terrorists must not be denied freedom of expression even if their irrational hatred can express itself only in a physical way.

It is true that terrorists operate alone or in small groups; and that the state fighting them is big. But the state is responsible for protecting the lives of tens of millions while terrorists have the singular purpose to kill a comparative few to sow grief, confusion and submission to their will. Imagine the benefit if we could enlist civil society in combating terrorism—and the organized crimes on which it feeds—rather than unwittingly protecting it.

The promotion of Maritime Security Cooperation is self-evident for maritime countries. On freedom of navigation and overflight, along with other issues in the South China Sea, we are doing the essential part by acting as China coordinator in negotiations for an internationally credible Code of Conduct all the way up to the adoption of the first Single Draft. It’s your turn. We can live with or without a Code of Conduct; we will just be where we are now: between uncertainty and war.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.


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