Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has urged Singaporean authorities to replicate its intelligence fusion in the straits of Marawi City and Tawi-Tawi to bar terrorist elements and other transnational criminals using the sea lanes to commit terrorism in the Philippines.
This developed as the House of Representatives recommended for Senate action a bill providing protection to children caught in the midst of armed conflict.
House Bill 7442, authored by former Speaker and Quezon City Rep. Feliciano Belmonte Jr., was approved on final reading by a 232-7 vote during the last session day of the first regular session of the 17th Congress.
In discussions with Singaporean Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen in Singapore, Lorenzana said he had asked his counterpart to duplicate the intelligence expertise his country has shared with Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei, which eventually stopped the rampant pirate attacks in the Malacca Strait.
“I have talked to Minister Eng if we can replicate in the strait in Marawi and Tawi-Tawi, and maybe if we could just replicate just a part of that intelligence fusion so that we can improve in monitoring people coming out from Sabah going to the Philippines,” he said.
With Singapore having advanced signal communications and cybersecurity, Lorenzana said pirates preying on international merchant ships passing in the Malacca Strait diminished.
“In fact, they (Singapore) were the ones who set up the intelligence fusion in Malacca strait to the shipping and they were able to stop piracy,” Lorenzana said.
In Congress, Belmonte welcomed the passage of his bill, otherwise known as the proposed “Special Protection of Children in Situations of Armed Conflict Act,” which covers all children involved in, affected by, or displaced by armed conflict.
The bill defines “child” as a person below 18 years of age or even older but is unable to fully take care or protect himself from abuse, neglect, cruelty, exploitation or discrimination; and unable to act with discernment because of his physical or mental disability or condition.
Among others, the bill provides measures, structures, and activities that not only ensure prevention and response to abuse, neglect, exploitation, and violence affecting children but also include the promotion of their development and psycho-social well-being.
The bill declares children as “zones of peace” and as such they are accorded certain rights in situations of armed conflict, including the following: the right to life, survival and development; the right of special respect and protection against any form of abuse, neglect, exploitation and violation, especially in the context of armed conflict; and the right to be treated as victims.
In filing the bill, Belmonte said “children in situations of armed conflict have the right to be treated with special respect and to be protected from any form of direct or indiscriminate attacks and acts of violence; the right to be protected from extra-judicial killings, maiming, torture, abduction and rape; and the right not to be interned or confined in camp.”
“Moreover, they have the right to be protected from recruitment any armed groups and from participation in armed conflict in whatever manner,” Belmonte, a lawyer, said.
Reports have said terrorist elements from Malaysia and Indonesia have been using the Malacca Strait to seek refuge, go undetected by authorities in Mindanao, and perpetuate terror acts in the Philippines like the Marawi City siege.
Dozens of Indonesian and Malaysian terrorists have been killed in a separate encounter with military troops in various parts in Mindanao, Basilan, Tawi-Tawi, and Sulu.
At present, Lorenzana said they are acquiring sophisticated equipment including wide-range coverage Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) in an attempt to monitor the movement of suspected terrorist and high-profile criminals in the country.
He said the gesture is part of the AFP’s modernization program which would improve intelligence capabilities of the military.
“In line with that, we are acquiring some technical capabilities. We are looking at facial recognition software so that we can easily look to track down the bad guys,” Lorenzana said.
The AFP has recently acquired a mini UAV called “Scaneagle” from the United States which was used to detect the movement of terrorists battling security forces in Marawi City siege that pinned to death
Isnilon Hapilon, the Abu Sayyaf Group chieftain and Islamic State Emir in Southeast Asia.
Aside from the capability of drones, Lorenzana underscored the importance of human intelligence in detecting locations, particularly in remote villages and ridges where enemies of the state sought cover.
“We still need human intelligence people who go down and see things on the ground in their own eyes and feel what happening on the ground, so they can report to higher orders,” Lorenzana pointed out.