"While CSOs are important in raising the level of discussion related to counterterrorism because they are in the midst of the ongoing efforts for peace and development," Dureza told participants during the opening of the Conference on Counterterrorism Measures and
Development in South and Southeast Asia at the Waterfront Insular Hotel.
Despite the ongoing debate on defining terrorism concretely at the United Nations General Assembly, Dureza said many countries still face the problem of "finding an acceptable definition, as well as the concept, of terrorism."
"We face the difficulty of framing a national legislation related to counterterrorism because there is a tendency for governments to bank on their own notion of national security and territorial integrity as a response to terrorism," he said.
The controversial law, Republic Act 9372 or the "Act to Secure the State and Protect our People from Terrorism," was signed into law by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on March 6 last year.
Commonly termed as "The Human Security Act of 2007," the law was widely criticized by human rights advocacy groups for its loose definition of terrorism and its tendency to curtail basic liberties of the people.
Last year, the Alternative Law Group (ALG) composed of rights-based NGOs, including the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, filed a petition before the Supreme Court to question the legality of the several provisions of the law which they deemed to be "repressive actions."
Dureza also cited a UN report that stressed the need to strengthen the capacities of Southeast Asian countries, including the Philippines, to check local long running conflicts, marginalization of many communities, lack of good governance, and cultural and religious disparities.
"Unfortunately, many lives have been sacrificed in the altar of counterterrorism, destroyed democratic space, curtail basic human rights, and posed threats to development work among many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and CSOs," Dureza said.
He added that governments "need the help of CSOs to eliminate the paranoia on terrorism and separate what is good and not good," while cautioning that "funding from many donor agencies today are taken from their security funds which are intended to expand the counterterrorism projects of their own governments."
Prof. George Lopez of the Notre Dame University of Indiana, US, observed that it was only in 2005 that the UN Security Council considered "bringing in the CSOs into a dialogue about forming a new architecture on defining counterterrorism measures."
"Such is an action-oriented approach to redefine the concept of security, the challenge of redefining terrorism in relation to security and CSOs," Lopez said.
"We must be aware that counterterrorism has deep cultural and religious undertones, especially when developed countries like the US, deals with countries in the South," Lopez said, adding that, "participatory security and development for marginalized communities is the only defense against terrorism."
Lopez said even the US, the main proponent of the global war on terror (GWOT), is slowly realizing that the military approach against terrorism "is failing" and that Pentagon is considering applying a "new military doctrine because military responses are ill-advised."
"Non-military measures organized by military for security purposes is essential while bringing marginalized sectors into peace and development process," Lopez said.
He said that CSOs have the capacities to bring potential insurgents into a process of non-violent dialogue as a new counterterrorism measure.
The conference here is the organized by Cordaid, Western Mindanao State University, and the Mindanao Peaceweavers, and the Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID).
On May 29, participants are to meet government leaders in a policy dialogue in Manila. Around 50 participants representing development organizations from Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Uganda, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines, are attending the conference. (Rick R. Flores/MindaNews contributor)