Philippines 'keen on studying Singapore counter-terrorism experience'

This photo taken on June 26, 2017 shows smoke billowing from a burning house after an aerial bombing on Muslim militant positions in Marawi, on the southern island of Mindanao.
This photo taken on June 26, 2017 shows smoke billowing from a burning house after an aerial bombing on Muslim militant positions in Marawi, on the southern island of Mindanao.PHOTO: AFP

MANILA - The Philippines can learn from Singapore's experience in fighting terrorism via "proactive" methods that seek to steer Singaporeans away from radical views, Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Tuesday (July 18).

"We could certainly learn from Singapore's own approaches in countering violent extremism, specifically in the way you deal with Islamic schools and returning foreign fighters," Mr Lorenzana said, as he welcomed Singapore's Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, who is on a two-day working visit to the Philippines.

Mr Lorenzana said the Philippines is keen on studying Singapore's "methods of proactively preventing your citizens from imbibing radical views and in reforming those that have been radicalised".

"Violent extremism has certainly taken centrestage, and our fight against it is taking place as we speak," he said.

Philippine security forces have been fighting for a ninth week Muslim militants who stormed the southern city of Marawi and declared it a "province" of the ultra-radical Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Government troops have used airstrikes, artillery fire, and special forces units to root out the militants, but scores are still holding out in a narrow area at a financial district now reduced to rubble. More than 500 people have been killed in the clashes.

Governments in the region are concerned that the siege in Marawi may have given traction to ISIS' agenda.

There have been concerns that militants fleeing Marawi may fan out to Malaysia, Indonesia and elsewhere in South-east Asia, and that the month-long siege is inspiring radicals across the region to flock to the Philippines.

"The Philippines is like a magnet now," Philippine military chief of staff General Eduardo Ano said earlier.

Security officials said about 40 foreign extremists, mostly from Malaysia and Indonesia, took part in the attacks in Marawi. Of the 276 militants who have been killed, at least three were Malaysians and one came from Indonesia.

Jolted by the Marawi attack, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia have begun joint sea patrols to control the movement of militants across their archipelagic region.

A statement from Singapore's Ministry of Defence said Mr Ng is in the Philippines "to gain a better understanding of the ongoing security situation in the southern Philippines and to explore ways for Singapore to support the Philippines in its counter-terrorism efforts".

Mr Lorenzana said he was also looking forward to hosting the second "Philippines-Singapore Defence Policy Consultation" initiated during Mr Ng's visit to the Philippines in 2014.

"We already have ongoing education and training exchanges, mainly the courses offered by Singapore, the Philippines-Singapore Joint Army Training Meeting, as well as intelligence exchanges. We aim to build on these existing mechanisms," he said.