- By Mark Angeles
Expatriate Consultant Editor
When it comes to how to handle the controversial issues involving the Muslim communities in Rakhine State, the Philippines has our back, the country’s foreign minister said at the recently concluded ASEAN summit in Manila.
The Philippines and Myanmar have challenges involving the Muslim communities in Marawi and Rakhine State, respectively, and there could be a common solution, or at least a shared, supported process, in tackling the issues.
“The key is dealing with the problem without politicization of the issue”, said Alan Peter Cayetano, the Philippines’ foreign minister. “The other thing is how to support the Myanmar government in solving problems based on their perspective and their needs”.
Last year, Muslim insurgents attacked border police outposts in northern Rakhine State, resulting in the deaths of nine police officers. The attacks prompted months of clearance operations by military troops, sparking accusations of human rights abuses.
Similarly, Islamic State-inspired terrorists in Marawi, Mindanao, in the southern Philippines, have been fighting military troops for over two months, resulting in a declaration of martial law in Mindanao and allegations of human rights abuses.
Cayetano’s remarks came at the inaugural meeting of the ASEAN Media Forum on Saturday, preceding the ASEAN summit of foreign ministers.
Yesterday, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said his country needed to be able to deal with its problems that have cost Filipino lives without external criticism.
“Policemen and soldiers have died on me”, Duterte said. “The war now in Marawi, what caused it but drugs? So human rights, don’t go there.”
The ministers of the members of ASEAN yesterday renewed their commitment to fight terrorism and prevent the so-called Islamic State from establishing a foothold in the region.
“In line with this, we reaffirmed our commitment to fight ISIS and other violent extremist groups to effectively curb their spread, as well as preventing them from gaining a foothold in the region,” the communiqué of the group read.
The effort seems to be gaining some support from western countries, as US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was in attendance at the ASEAN summit in Manila, pledged support in the Philippines’ fight against Islamic insurgency by providing surveillance capabilities, training, information and aircraft to help it fight the months-long siege of Marawi City by pro-ISIS militants, the top US diplomat said Monday as he prepared to meet Duterte.
“We think they are beginning to get that situation under control,” Tillerson told reporters. “But the real challenge is going to come with once they have the fighting brought to an end how to deal with the conditions on the ground to ensure it does not re-emerge.”
Human rights groups have questioned US President Donald Trump’s willingness to engage with Duterte, who has been criticised for a bloody war on illegal drugs that has killed thousands of suspects. But Tillerson argued there’s no contradiction presented by the US decision to help his country fight the militants, whose insurgency in the Philippines has stoked global fears about the Islamic State group exporting violence into Southeast Asia and beyond.
“I see no conflict — no conflict at all in our helping them with that situation and our views of the human rights concerns we have with respect to how they carry out their counter narcotics activities,” Tillerson said.