The most worrying aspect of the burgeoning relationship between Russia and the Philippines is the focus on counter-terrorism. For decades, Moscow has unleashed a brutal counter-terrorism campaign in Chechnya, which should not become a model for Rodrigo Duterte’s counter-terrorism operations in Mindanao.
On January 3 after a four-day visit to the Philippines, Eduard Mikhailov, a senior Russian naval officer, stated the Russian Navy is willing to help the country fight against terrorism. “The problem here is terrorism … You have the task to fight this problem and we will show you what we can do,” he said during a media interview.
Russian Ambassador to the Philippines, Igor Anatolyevich Khovaev, reiterated Moscow’s support, stating they are willing to provide sophisticated arms to the Philippines, including light weapons, submarines and helicopters.
Moscow is no novice when it comes to dealing with terrorism, with Islamic militants continuing to threaten Russia’s stability until this day. Most of the terror attacks stem from instability in Chechnya, a region that historically fought for independence from Moscow.
Although most acts of terrorism are confined to Chechnya and neighbouring Dagestan, occasionally Islamic militants have conducted terror operations elsewhere in Russia, most notably the 1999 Russian apartment bombings, the 2002 Moscow theatre hostage crisis, and the 2004 Beslan School siege. In 2013 alone, 31 terrorist attacks claimed 40 lives and injured dozens more, according to the Investigative Committee of Russia.
Moscow has adopted a policy of collective punishment, whereby the entire population of Chechnya has suffered as a result of Islamic militancy. Putin led the campaign against Chechnya, being accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity along the way in an attempt to put an end to the terrorist attacks. Human rights are regularly dismissed in defiance of the law in order to advance counter-terrorism operations.
For decades, 8252 kilometres away from Moscow, Manila has been facing an Islamic insurgency in the southern island of Mindanao. Abdurajak Abubakar Janjalani formed a violent extremist group in the Philippines known as Abu Sayyaf, who split from the separatist movement Moro National Liberation in 1991.
Today, Abu Sayyaf seeks an independent Islamic state on Mindanao, not so different from the Caucasus Emirate in southwest Russia, who aspire to expel Russia from the North Caucasus and create an Islamic emirate in its place.
After losing the support base it garnered in the 1990s, today Abu Sayyaf has no more than 400 members, but still continues to threaten Philippine stability.
As recently as September 2016, terrorism struck Duterte’s hometown, Davao City, in the southern Philippines.
Duterte has vowed to address terrorism in Mindanao but acknowledges time is needed to combat the problem at its root. “I have six years to do it. I do not know how many concessions God can [give], but he made me a President, so I hope He helps me,” he said.
With the threat of battle-hardened Islamic State fighters returning from the Middle-East to South-East Asia, aspiring to create a caliphate in the region, the prospect of terrorism is growing.
In the past, the Philippine military have tried to halt terrorist gangs such as Abu Sayyaf with support from the United States and Australia to little avail. The new relationship with Russia offers an alternative. According to officials, the Philippines is “open to cooperating with the Russian Ministry of Defense through education and training exchanges on counter-terrorism operations”.
Duterte has shown a liking to Putin’s brash politics, often emphasising his admiration for the Russian president. The two men met for the first time at an Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leader’s meeting in Lima, Peru last November. “You know, we have become fast friends”, Duterte said in the aftermath. Putin and Duterte claim to share not only a mutual understanding of Western hypocrisy in global affairs, but similar outlooks on how to best handle terrorism.
According to Duterte, Indonesian and Malaysian authorities have permission to bomb fleeing Filipino militants and their hostages at sea. “[B]omb them. If they cannot be captured, you bomb them. How about the hostages? Eh, bomb them also,” he allegedly told Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.
For Duterte, the loss of civilian life is justified if it means combating terror. Putin has regularly conducted operations in a similar way, ignoring large-scale loss of civilian life in its counter-terrorism campaign, most notably in 2002 and 2004. Taking counter-terrorism advice from Putin may suit Duterte, but it will undermine the rule of law in the Philippines as it has in Russia.
At present Duterte’s “war on drugs” is making headlines with the death roll reaching 6200 since his election. But the second war Duterte may decide to wage, the “war on terror”, is just around the corner, which may prove equally damaging for the country.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.