By FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE JOSE C. DE VENECIA JR.
The killing last week of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi by US military forces was a fatal blow to the extremist movement and a remarkable achievement in the battle against global terrorism.
Indeed, the US-led military coalition fighting ISIS has weakened the terrorist group’s bloody operations in recent years, which carried out suicide bombings, ambushes, assassinations, executions, and kidnappings, among many other violent acts in the Middle East and more recent intrusions into Southeast Asia including the violent attack and destruction in our Muslim Marawi City.
Thank God, our government is now beginning the storied city’s still slow but determined rebuilding.
At the height of its movement, the ISIS had established a caliphate extending from western Iraq to eastern Syria, which is as large as the United Kingdom, reportedly commanded some 30,000 armed combatants from largely Arab countries, including a sprinkling of Asian volunteers, and placed the lives of around 12 million people under its control.
Apparently, the ISIS has now been debilitated but security analysts warned that it remains a still global movement and may consolidate and create conditions for a likely resurgence in Syria, and Iraq. The continuing security, political, and economic uncertainties in those countries, as well as in their geographically neighbour-countries also serve as fertile grounds for violent extremism.
Analysts also cautioned that the terrorist movement may even extend to various parts of the world as the ISIS has fierce ties in some countries in the Middle East, West Africa, South Asia, and even Southeast Asia, including perhaps our own country in Mindanao.
A news report in the New York Times International two months ago stated that the ISIS “can still tap a large war chest of as much as $400 million, which has been hidden in either Iraq or Syria or smuggled into neighboring countries for safekeeping. It is also believed to have invested in businesses, including fish farming, car sales, and growing cannabis. And ISIS uses extortion to finance clandestine operations.”
Truly, innocent civilians, especially children, have been the gravest casualties of the violent conflicts in Syria and Iraq, with millions displaced from their homes and millions more who escaped to the neighbouring countries struggling as refugees, with many living in unbearable conditions.
We saw up close the atrocious damage that the bloody war with ISIS has caused to the communities when we journeyed only a few months ago, last February, 2019, to Homs, Syria, a three-hour drive from Beirut, Lebanon, which, sadly, has been going through massive anti-government protests in the last two weeks, resulting in the resignation of its Prime Minister Saad Hariri but that is another story.
We were in Beirut earlier this year to attend a business conference, and we convinced our friends Alex and Anne Fu, Michael Chen, Tony Lam, Lebanese-Australian entrepreneur Sam Fayad from Sydney, accompanied by our long-time Assistant Aldwin Requejo, to cross into Syria in two cars to look into the destruction and the painfully slow rebuilding in the Syrian communities.
Elsewhere, in succeeding months, some 500 ISIS fighters were perhaps making their last stand, against the US-led military forces in Baghouz, in eastern Syria, near the Iraqi border.
Next week, we shall try to devote our column to the wars in the Middle East since our halcyon days in the mid-1970s when we pioneered as the first prime contractor, not as a labor recruiter, but bringing our own Filipino workforce, management teams, construction and O-and-M equipment, contending with some of the largest companies in the world, in the Middle East and North Africa.
We also operated the ports of Jeddah on the Red Sea and Jubail on the Persian (Arab) Gulf, and other projects in Iraq, Kuwait, and the United Emirates, as prime contractors.
With our companies, Basic Energy and the now defunct Landoil, we also created a Filipino-Arab joint-venture and drilled the first successful commercial oil well in the Emirate of Ajman, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) which we had to leave with our Arab associates with the explosion of the Iraq-Iran war.
(In Qatar last week, for only a few hours enroute to Manila from Paris, we told wife Gina we should perhaps try go back to Ajman in the UAE to try to negotiate with the Emirate there for our old successful well there since my older brother, Oscar, nephew Oscar Jr., and son Jose III want to revive our old ventures in oil exploration in the UAE (easier said than done!).
We might point out that in the old days in the mid-1950s, in the process, we gave employment to more than 50,000 Filipinos over a period of 10 years and dramatically contributed large infusions into the Central Bank’s dollar reserves, and paved the way over the years for the more than two million Filipino professionals and workers today in the Middle East.
In the mid-1970s, many with their expired contracts in the Arab world, moved on to new job opportunities in Europe, across the nearby Suez Canal, and into the Mediterranean, and created a new Filipino saga in Italy, Spain, France, the United Kingdom, and the Benelux countries.
They represented the second and third overseas Filipino saga from their earlier forebears in Hawaii, Alaska, California, Chicago, and New York, and much later, with the deployment of fairly large Filipino overseas workers in Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and longer-term migrants to Australia and New Zealand.
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