Creation of PH homeland security department eyed as key vs terrorism

MANILA, Philippines – Government security experts are already studying the creation of a homeland security department to prevent and battle terrorism in the Philippines, said Philippine Public Safety College (PPSC) analyst Mark Pablo on Sunday, September 9.

"What we have right now in addressing violent extremism is an inter-agency approach which obviously has its flaws. Now, we hope that this will be corrected with the Department of Homeland Security," Pablo said, speaking to a room full of academics, security experts, civic group leaders, and military personnel.

Pablo was discussing the Philippine government's policy in battling terrorism at a workshop by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, which aimed to arrive at recommendations on countering violent extremism.

Violent extremism is defined by the United States Agency for International Development as "advocating, engaging in, preparing, or otherwise supporting ideologically motivated or justified violence to further social, economic, or political objectives." This also covers terrorism.

Why have a homeland security department? By a flawed inter-agency approach, Pablo was referring to how when a suspected terrorist attack occurs, actions would have to come from various agencies under different departments of the Philippine government.

"Now, we have interoperability [among agencies]. There is lack of mandate.... We do not have a particular department that would clearly address these kinds of threats," Pablo said.

Normally, the Philippine National Police (PNP) under the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) under the Department of National Defense (DND) would respond and coordinate when an attack occurs. (READ: The war in Marawi: 153 days and more)

Pablo said government security experts are proposing that one department be focused on both prevention and response to internal or "homeland" security threats.

This would be different from the DND, which is focused on protecting the country from outside threats. Recently, however, the DND noted a need to shift toward reinforcing internal security after the Marawi siege in 2017.

NEW DEPARTMENT. Mark Pablo (L) and Jennifer Santiago Oreta at the national workshop on violent extremism organized by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in the Philippines. Photo by Rambo Talabong/Rappler

NEW DEPARTMENT. Mark Pablo (L) and Jennifer Santiago Oreta at the national workshop on violent extremism organized by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in the Philippines.

Photo by Rambo Talabong/Rappler

What would it look like? Pablo said the proposed department would consolidate already existing agencies for a focused response against violent extremism and terrorism.

"We're just going to realign all existing agencies, offices, or bureaus that are concerned with addressing violent extremism and terrorism and then bring them all together under a single department that would have in its mandate counter-radicalization, theoreticalization, and counterterrorism," Pablo explained.

For the homeland security department to exist, a bill would need to be passed by Congress and signed by President Rodrigo Duterte into law. While the Duterte administration is prioritizing a campaign against terrorism through its security agencies, no bill creating a separate internal security department has been filed in Congress.

Here's an example: Jennifer Santiago Oreta, a security expert teaching at the Ateneo de Manila University, expressed support for the idea. She pointed out the case of the DILG, which handles both internal security and local governments.

"So within the DILG you have a usec (undersecretary) and asec (assistant secretary) that is focused on the local government, and then you have the usec and asec that [focus] on the interior. That is totally separated.... Well, of course, there is [a] connection, but in terms of operation, it's totally different," Oreta said.

Under the interior aspect of the DILG is the PNP, the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, and the Bureau of Fire Protection, which are concerned with maintaining public order. They could be moved to the proposed homeland security department. – 

Rambo Talabong

Rambo Talabong covers security, crime, and the city of Manila for Rappler. He was chosen as a Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.