Terrorist groups intensify recruitment amid crisis

TERRORIST groups have taken the ongoing three-month Marawi crisis as an opportunity to intensify their recruitment activities nationwide primarily because of misinformation of the public, a professor said.

In an interview with Professor Mark Anthony Torres of the Mindanao State University Iligan Institute of Technology-Institute of Peace and Development in Mindanao during the Multi-Sectoral Forum in countering violent extremism on Wednesday at Ritz Hotel, he said that terrorists took advantage of the negative turnout of the developments as their edge to strengthen the recruitment.

"In countering violent extremism for now, we see na isang strategy lang (that they only have one strategy): pursuit of combatants in Marawi, pero ang observation namin (but our observation) on the ground is that recruitment is ongoing. I think in a faster rate because what is happening in Marawi is being used as propaganda for furthering the recruitment process," Torres said.

He attributed the observation because recruiters are reinforcing the negative perception of the public to the military due to alleged looting and surgical airstrikes which destroyed the houses of the people in Marawi City. Also the historical injustices, socio-economic marginalization and human rights violation in the past that needs to be addressed.

"Apparently, the Marawi happened because of accumulated grievances. All the government and private sectors would help like highlighting Madrash as spaces for pluralism," he said, adding that the government should also empower religious leaders like Ulama who will propagate the right ideologies to the youth who are more susceptible to recruitment.

He also said that military officers must always explain to the public the reason why they are conducting such actions.

Torres said it was not only in Mindanao where recruitment is being undertaken but also in as far as Luzon. These recruits, he said, were brainwashed and misinformed. Others are orphan children who want to seek justice for their fallen family members.

"We have a network of universities, we have schools that are also convening every now and then. They are gathering conducting peace and education seminars and these are issues that surfaced through the community dialogues and in-house dialogues that are being conducted in schools," he said.

Torres cited also the importance of the role of the media, saying there should always be a balance in reporting not only focusing on the negative aspect but mostly the positive one as it creates a huge impact to the public.

He also said that it should not only be the disrupted buildings or sad state of internally displaced persons in the evacuation areas that should be shown but also the positive interventions like the united effort of the Filipinos in providing services to help the victims.

"Unintentionally, if we only focus on the negative things that are happening, you are providing spaces for psychological recruitment. If they see their houses destroyed, it will provoke negative sentiments," he said.

He underscored that also being recruited are those with skills and social media savvy.

A nationwide approach should be implemented, according to him, to curb the recruitment and prevent violent extremism.
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