Innovation and traditional strengths key to Singapore’s role in China’s Belt and Road Initiative

November 26, 2017

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Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat speaking with Singapore students at Tsinghua University on Nov 25, 2017. Mr Heng said that there are opportunities for Singaporeans to learn from and collaborate with their Chinese counterparts.ST PHOTO: LIM YAN LIANG

BEIJING – There is a palpable buzz to the innovation scene in China, and opportunities are growing for Singaporeans to learn from and collaborate with their Chinese counterparts, Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat said on Sunday (Nov 26).

Singapore also has unique strengths, such as in legal and finance, that it should capitalise on to capture a slice of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Mr Heng told reporters at the close of his five-day trip to Suzhou and Beijing.

“I must say that it is a place that is full of buzz and full of young entrepreneurs as well as older ones who are working very well to think about what is the next stage of growth, what they can contribute and how they can better use technology to improve lives,” he said. “I hope that we too can make a contribution in that area.”

Reading the pulse of China’s tech scene was a key goal of the trip for Mr Heng, who is the first minister from Singapore to visit China after last month’s key party congress that put in place the country’s top leadership for the next five years.

Among the places he visited were the Tsinghua University Science Park, where he saw the university’s built-in ecosystem for turning ideas into commercial products, and Didi Chuxing’s office, where he was briefed on how the ride-hailing giant uses big data and analytics with local governments to improve traffic flows.

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He also officiated at the finals of a tech summit where nine start-ups, including three from Singapore, pitched their ideas to investors.

China’s push for greater innovation also comes through various levels of its government, said Mr Heng, who met senior officials such as his counterpart Xiao Jie and Jiangsu party secretary Lou Qinjian during his trip.

“(An) area they have given a lot of thought to is the promotion of innovation – this is a topic that came across very strongly in all my meetings, both at the provincial level, as well as at the central government level.”

With more Chinese companies today looking at going global, a network of deep linkages with innovation hubs across the world is necessary to encourage more of them to use Singapore as a base for their internationalisation efforts.

To this end, the Global Innovation Alliance, which was launched in Beijing last Friday (Nov 24), will give Singapore entrepreneurs a chance to understand the Chinese market and build relationships, while serving as a sort of satellite campus for students to be exposed to China and “understand the buzz that’s happening in these places”.

Mr Heng said while Singaporeans are more keen to go abroad today than just a decade ago, Singapore needs more of them to do so.

“We need to encourage more young people to do so because the more they understand what is happening around our region and the global economy, the better prepared they will be to take on important roles ahead,” he said. “Singaporeans – with our emphasis on bilingual education, with our emphasis on understanding a broad range of areas, a broad range of subjects – are actually very well placed to do this.”

Singapore’s traditional strengths also mean it can be a role player in the BRI to build infrastructure across much of the region, he added.

For instance, it can help write the rules setting out clearly the role of multilateral development banks like the World Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, structure projects so that risks are well understood and financing is sound across different stages, and standardise contracts to build predictability and lessen risk.

Getting the legal instruments right, such as for contracting parties to use a neutral body to be the dispute resolution centre, is also key, said Mr Heng.

Singapore aims to be this international arbitration hub, with the Ministry of Law working hard on this front, he added.

“If we can do this well, it will have a major impact,” Mr Heng said, adding that the government is also looking at different ways to expand trade flows, such as through trade and investment agreements and regulatory coordination.

Mr Heng said that as Asean chair next year, Singapore will look at ways to drive greater cooperation in new technologies, digitalisation and creative solutions. It has designated 2018 as the Asean-China Year of Innovation.

Singapore will also seek to promote deeper understanding between the Chinese and the peoples of Asean, he said.

“The more our economies are closely integrated together, the more our security are interdependent, the more important it is for us to understand people from around the region and promote that friendship (all) across,” he said.


The politics of dominance: Don’t take it to the limit

October 2, 2017

By Han Fook Kwang
The Straits Times


An overly dominant ruling party faces dangers such as resistance to change and complacency

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s victory in the recent elections made headlines around the world because her party’s winning margin was much reduced due to the gains of the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

For Singaporeans though, the more peculiar feature of the result might be that her party won only 33 per cent of the votes and would need a coalition with others to form the government. That has been a hallmark of German politics for decades. Yet, despite not winning a majority, Chancellor Merkel is now into her fourth term in office and is widely regarded as the leader of the Western world, after United States President Donald Trump was unofficially stripped of the title because of his inward-looking “America First” policy. Under her leadership, Germany has strengthened its position as one of the strongest economies in the world and demonstrated forthright stewardship of the troubled European Union.

Question: How has the country been able to achieve all these despite its politics of coalition government? Or, is its ability to accommodate a wide range of views one of the secrets to its strength?

I do not know the answer but whatever it is, it is a world apart from Singapore, where the defining characteristic has been the dominant position of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), which has won every general election since independence in 1965. So overwhelming has its hold been that there has not been a single year when the opposition held more than 10 per cent of the seats and many in which it held none.

Singapore has done exceptionally well during these years of PAP dominance. The economy has grown, per capita income is one of the highest in the world, and the city has been transformed beyond recognition. There are many reasons for its success but political stability has often been touted as a major factor.

Indeed, the Government has repeatedly stressed that because of Singapore’s small size and limited talent pool, it cannot afford to have the revolving-door politics seen in many Western democracies, with parties taking turns at the helm, or worse, suffer a coalition government.

Singaporeans, by and large, understand the benefits of a strong government: the ability to plan for the long term, and to be able to implement policies quickly without politics getting in the way.

In contrast, the Germans would recoil at the thought of having one party dominate the country, having learnt their painful lesson in the brutal years leading to World War II when the Nazi Party led by Adolf Hitler muscled its way to power.

To each his own then, and never the twain shall meet?

Every country has to decide which system works best for it, shaped by its own history and the unique circumstances of its people and culture. There is no universal model.

Every country has to decide which system works best for it, shaped by its own history and the unique circumstances of its people and culture. There is no universal model. But there are dangers when any one system is taken to extremes.

But there are dangers when any one system is taken to extremes.

In Germany, seats are allocated by proportional representation, which encourages multi-party democracy and works against a dominant party system. This has helped extreme right-wing parties such as the AfD gain a foothold, the first time in 60 years they have been able to do so. Analysts predict a rough time ahead as fringe parties enter the fray with their divisive politics.

In Singapore, danger comes from the other end of the spectrum, from an overly dominant government. It can lead to complacency when leaders lose touch with the ground and ordinary people’s concerns. Without a strong opposition and other influential voices outside the party, groupthink can set in.

The PAP suffered from some of this in the years leading to the 2011 General Election (GE), when it failed to address issues such as rising property prices, overcrowded MRT trains and an overly liberal immigration policy leading to a large influx of foreign workers. It was accused of being elitist in its approach.

To its credit, it acknowledged its weaknesses after suffering one of its worst setbacks in the GE, tackled the problems, and reaped the benefits in the 2015 GE.

Now, there are renewed concerns it is exercising its dominant powers by introducing the reserved presidency despite unhappiness among the people. Its overwhelming electoral victory in 2015 has no doubt made it more assured in dealing with these politically sensitive issues.

There is a familiar cycle to the politics of dominance, with the ruling party testing the limits of its power and recalibrating it at every election depending on how well it performs.

But it has to watch that it does not overplay its card because the Singapore political landscape is a flat one and can be swayed by one major nationwide issue, such as the reserved presidency. There might still be a political reckoning to come in the next election.

Besides complacency, there are two other dangers of an overly dominant government.

One is the blurring of lines between the party and the state. This is a pertinent risk in Singapore because the ruling party has been in power for so long, the public service has known no other political master. Public servants are supposed to be politically neutral in theory, but in practice it can be difficult to draw the line.

For example, opposition politicians have long complained that the People’s Association (PA) discriminates against them in not appointing opposition Members of Parliament as grassroots advisers even though they have been duly elected by the people. The Government has argued that the PA exists to explain and promote government programmes, a role it does not expect the opposition to support.

In reality, any ruling party anywhere will want to maximise the advantage it enjoys in incumbency. That’s only natural, and the PAP, because of its longevity, knows this better than anyone.

But if overdone, it risks undermining the integrity of public institutions and public confidence in them.

This would have serious consequences for Singapore because its public service is among the best in the world, with a reputation painstakingly built over the years.

The other danger an overly dominant ruling party faces is resistance to change even when circumstances require it. I do not mean adjustments of government policies but more fundamental changes to the party’s internal workings, such as who and how it attracts new members, how it selects its leaders, and what its approach is to alternative views.

The tendency of most dominant systems is to preserve the status quo because of inertia and vested interests. Can change come voluntarily from within, or will it be forced by external circumstances? The record of most dominant parties around the world, including the Liberal Democratic Party in Japan, Umno in Malaysia and the African National Congress in South Africa, favours the latter. The PAP, being politically stronger than any of these parties, might yet prove the exception.

None of these potential risks will make Singaporeans desire coalition government or Germans embrace a dominant-party system. But both would do well to recognise the dangers of taking any one form to the extreme.

• The writer is also a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University.

Only one Singaporean is fit to be president — So who decides in a democracy? — Or who cares if it is a democracy?

September 14, 2017

Or so the government concludes

IT IS very important, Lee Hsien Loong, Singapore’s prime minister, explained last year, that all Singaporeans feel they have a genuine chance of becoming president. To that end, his government tinkered with the eligibility criteria for candidates. Yet Singaporeans primed for a festival of inclusiveness at this year’s election must be confused. On September 11th a committee of senior officials declared that only one candidate was eligible to stand, and that the woman in question, Halimah Yacob, a former speaker of parliament, was thus deemed to have been elected unopposed. She will be sworn in on September 14th.

Singapore’s democracy can sometimes seem a little regimented: the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) has been in power since before independence in 1965. So when the government decided to amend the constitution in 1991 to allow direct elections for president, ostensibly to deepen popular engagement with politics, observers were suspicious—and rightly so. The criteria for eligibility were set so narrowly that only two of the subsequent five elections have involved more than one candidate. Even so, at the previous election, in 2011, the PAP’s preferred candidate came within a whisker of losing.

The government says this close shave had no influence on its decision to narrow the eligibility criteria yet more before this year’s election. The intention, Mr Lee explained, was to make sure that none of Singapore’s three main ethnic groups—Chinese, Malays and Indians—was excluded from the job for too long. In November the government duly changed the constitution to reserve presidential elections for members of a particular ethnic group if no one from that group has held the job for the previous five terms. On this basis, the presidential election this year was limited to Malays, who make up 13% of the population but have not held the office of president since 1970. Coincidentally, the new rules prevented the candidate who fell just 7,383 votes short last time, Tan Cheng Bock, from running again, as he is one of the 74% of Singaporeans who are Chinese (9% of the population is Indian).

Cynics point out that the government’s concern with diversity goes only so far. All holders of the much more powerful post of prime minister have been Chinese—two out of three of them from the Lee family. Singapore normally prides itself on being a meritocracy, in contrast to neighbouring Malaysia, where Malays and other indigenous groups are accorded special privileges. And while candidates for president this year had to be Malay, not just any Malay could apply. They also needed either to have served in an extremely senior government job or to have run a profitable company with S$500m ($371m) in shareholder equity. The figure used to be S$100m but a decision to raise the bar was announced last year. Undaunted, two other Malays beside Ms Halimah applied to run, but were judged not to have met the criteria.

Popular and competent, Ms Halimah seemed very likely to win even with some competition. Disqualifying her challengers robs her of the modicum of legitimacy the election could have given her. Voters excited to mark ballots for Singapore’s first female president are particularly disappointed. Then again, Singapore’s repeated tightening of the rules suggests a lack of faith that voters, given a wider choice, would make the right decision.

Anger over UAE jailing of Singaporeans for ‘dressing feminine’ — sentenced to a year in jail

August 25, 2017


© AFP | The United Arab Emirates criminalises sodomy, as well as both pre-marital and extra-marital sex. Article 358 of the penal code also criminalises “indecent attire” as an act of public indecency.
SINGAPORE (AFP) – The family of a Singaporean man jailed with a transgender friend in the United Arab Emirates for dressing in a “feminine” way called Friday for their release, as activists raced to raise funds for legal fees.

Fashion photographer Muhammad Fadli bin Abdul Rahman and transgender friend, Noor Vitriya Kistina Ibrahim, were arrested at a shopping mall in Abu Dhabi and sentenced to a year in jail at the weekend, according to relatives.

Fadli’s brother Saiful told AFP from Singapore that the pair were detained by the tourism police for “looking feminine”.

Advocacy group Detained in Dubai said they were convicted of charges related to “inappropriate behaviour over their clothing”. The group confirmed both were sentenced to a year in jail.

Fadli, 26, told his family that he was wearing earrings and a tie at the time of his arrest, Saiful added.

“We want them released and back to Singapore as soon as possible,” he said, adding his brother was a “friendly, happy-go-lucky and jovial person.”

“We were informed that he was arrested for looking feminine, but looking feminine is very broad. It was emotional, my parents broke down when they heard the news,” he added.

Rights activists in Singapore launched an online crowd-funding campaign to raise Sg$25,000 ($18,366) for their legal and other fees and breached their target just after midday Friday, according to their Facebook page.

Noor is described by activists as a transgender person who has not yet undergone sex change surgery to become a woman.

Radha Stirling, head of London-based advocacy group Detained in Dubai and managing partner at the Stirling Haigh law firm, said Thursday her organisation will appeal the verdict and request the sentence be dropped to a fine and deportation.

The United Arab Emirates criminalises sodomy, as well as both pre-marital and extra-marital sex.

Article 358 of the penal code also criminalises “indecent attire” as an act of public indecency.

Asia security forum to push social media use to fight extremism

August 5, 2017


AUGUST 5, 2017 / 1:24 AM

By Manuel Mogato

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A man use a mobile phone to take pictures of his friend beside an Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) parked near the venue of the 50th ASEAN Foreign Ministers meeting in Pasay city, metro Manila, Philippines August 4, 2017. Reuters photo

MANILA (Reuters) – More than two dozen Asian countries will agree to utilize social media to counter the spread of violent extremism in the region, according to a draft statement being prepared ahead of a top security gathering on Monday.

Foreign ministers from the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and from 17 dialogue partner-countries are expected to create a regional mechanism to address the security threat.

“The ministers expressed strong condemnation of recent acts of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations,” said the draft chairman’s statement seen by Reuters, reflecting discussions expected at the ASEAN Regional Forum in Manila.

“They also took note of the need to make full and effective use of social media to counter the spread of terrorists’ narratives online.”

The ARF is expected to discuss creating a mechanism to boost efforts on Security of Information Communication Technology, which Japan, Malaysia and Singapore have volunteered to lead.

The Philippines, which is hosting the ASEAN meetings, is among those most affected. Authorities have said Islamic State’s radical ideology is taking a hold in the country’s south, with local groups using social media as a primary means of recruiting fighters, which include Indonesians, Singaporeans and Malaysians.

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Motorists drive past an Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) parked near the venue of the 50th ASEAN Foreign Ministers meeting in Pasay city, metro Manila, Philippines August 4, 2017. Romeo Ranoco

Philippine troops have been battling Islamist militants who seized control of parts of the mainly Muslim Marawi City more than two months ago. Close to 700 people have died and more than 400,000 displaced in the intense fighting.

Philippine authorities believe the problem goes beyond Marawi and militants may be preparing to attack other cities.

ASEAN ministers were ready to act because they have seen how extremists exploited social media to promote their ideology, recruit and inspire attacks, a senior Philippines foreign ministry official familiar with the issue told Reuters.

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“They spread violent videos on Twitter and Facebook and communicate through Telegram messaging apps,” he said, adding the ministers decided to counter the threat using those same platforms.

Brigadier-General Restituto Padilla, Philippine military spokesman, said many countries were making progress in that regard but “there is a need for ASEAN to do more.”

“We can do more beyond the traditional military cooperation,” he said, acknowledging support from Indonesia and Malaysia through information and intelligence exchanges and coordinated maritime border patrols.

“This is a very robust engagement that we wish to increase not only with Indonesia and Malaysia,” he said. “This challenge that we face in Marawi has its effects also in the whole region.”

Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Martin Petty and Bill Tarrant


© AFP/File | Telegram is a free Russian-designed messaging app that lets people exchange messages, photos and videos in groups of up to 5,000 people

Singaporeans among foreign fighters involved in ISIS-linked insurgency in southern Philippines’ Marawi — “Before, it was just a local terrorist group. But now, there is now an ideology.”

May 26, 2017

DAVAO CITY – Foreign Muslim militants, including some from Singapore, are involved in the days-long clashes in a key city in the southern Philippine island group of Mindanao, the military said on Friday (May 26).

“There are… Malaysians, Singaporeans… in the fight that has been ongoing in Marawi. We are continuously verifying that there have been a number of them who have been killed,” Brigadier-General Restituto Padilla said at a news briefing here.

About a hundred militants seized large parts of Marawi, a mainly Muslim city of over 200,000, some 814km south of the capital Manila, on Tuesday (May 23), after security forces raided a suspected hideout of Isnilon Hapilon, named by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) as its top man in South-east Asia.


An army brigade, backed by helicopter gunships and armoured vehicles, has been sent to dislodge them, but as of Friday morning, they remained holed up in parts of Marawi.

The crisis in Marawi forced President Rodrigo Duterte to place the whole of Mindanao under martial rule.

Asked at Friday’s briefing about the presence of foreign fighters in Marawi, Solicitor-General Jose Calida said: “Malaysians, Indonesians, from Singapore, and other foreign jihadists… And that’s bothersome.

“Before, it was just a local terrorist group. But now, there is now an ideology. They have subscribed to the ideology of ISIS.  They have pledged allegiance to the flag of ISIS. They want to create Mindanao as part of the caliphate.​

“What’s happening in Mindanao is no longer a rebellion of Filipino citizens. It has transmogrified into an invasion by foreign terrorists who heeded the clarion call of the ISIS to go to the Philippines, if they find difficulty in going to Iraq or Syria,” added Mr Calida, as he explained why Mr Duterte had to declare martial law.

Brig-Gen Padilla reported that at least 31 militants have been killed in Marawi so far.  Twelve have been identified, and six of these were foreigners, he added.

He said, however, that the names of those killed had yet to be validated.

“This is for validation. I do know there are some Indonesians and Malaysians (among those killed). But specifically, for the others, we don’t know yet.  The information we have is initial.  We are still validating,” he said.

The only Singaporean known to have joined Islamic extremists in the Philippines was Abdullah Ali, alias Muawiyah, who was believed to have gone to Mindanao with Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir.

Brig-Gen Padilla insisted that the siege in Marawi has been ISIS-inspired, but that the Islamic group is not orchestrating it, despite the presence of foreign fighters.

“The groups trying to ally with (ISIS) are feverishly trying to comply with requirements that have been set for them to be validly a part (of ISIS), which they have not been able to. This is the reason why many of these activities of violence, radicalism and extremism have been aimed precisely at that aspect,” he told reporters.

Philippines says foreign fighters part of Islamic State ‘invasion’ — Amid simmering disbelief — “Beware of manufactured evidence.”

May 26, 2017


Fri May 26, 2017 | 2:35am EDT

By Romeo Ranoco and Neil Jerome Morales | MARAWI CITY/DAVAO, PHILIPPINES

Indonesians and Malaysians were among foreign Jihadists battling the military after laying siege to a southern Philippine city, the government said on Friday, in a rare admission of what it said was an Islamic State “invasion”.

The army has deployed attack helicopters and special forces to drive rebels of the Islamic State-linked Maute group out of Marawi City and Malaysians and Indonesians and other foreigners were among six guerrillas killed on Thursday.

The announcement elevates the threat of what experts and the military say are moves by Islamic State to exploit the poverty and lawlessness of predominantly Muslim Mindanao island to establish a base for extremists from Southeast Asia and beyond.

“What’s happening in Mindanao is no longer a rebellion of Filipino citizens,” Solicitor General Jose Calida told a news conference.

“It has transmogrified into invasion by foreign terrorists, who heeded the call of the ISIS to go to the Philippines if they find difficulty in going to Iraq and Syria,” he said, using the acronym for Islamic State.

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Government soldiers on military vehicles patrol after a continued assault on fighters from the Maute group who have taken over large parts of Marawi city, southern Philippines May 26, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

President Rodrigo Duterte has delivered on his threat to impose martial law on Mindanao, the country’s second-largest island, to stop the spread of radical Islam. He has been pleading with Mindanao governors and religious leaders to work with the government to keep extremists at bay.

Duterte recently warned that Islamic State fighters driven from Iraq and Syria would end up in the southern Philippines and his country was at risk of “contamination”.

The Maute, which has pledged allegiance to Islamic State, held its positions on bridges and buildings on Friday as ground troops launched early morning offensives to flush out the remaining gunmen after unrest that has killed 11 soldiers and 31 militants.

The White House on Thursday said it backed the Philippines in its fight against “cowardly terrorists”.

Few of Marawi’s 200,000 inhabitants remained after militants ran amok, seizing and torching schools, a college and a hospital. They freed more than 100 prisoners and took a priest and churchgoers hostage at the city’s cathedral.


Convoys of vehicles packed with evacuees and protected by heavily armed soldiers streamed into nearby Iligan City. One Christian resident, Mark Angelou Siega, described how students fled amid fears rebels would take over their university campus.

“We were preparing for exams and we could hear the gunfire and bombs,” he told Reuters.

“We were so scared and so were our Muslim brothers and sisters. We were sure they would get to us.

“These terrorists are not real Muslims.”

Solicitor general Calida said the Maute group and Islamic State had a dream to create their own “ISIS province” in Mindanao and the government was not the only target of their aggression.

“People they consider as infidels, whether Christians or Muslims, are also targets,” he said. “What it worrisome is that the ISIS has radicalized a number of Filipino Muslim youth.”

Duterte has dealt with separatist unrest during his 22 years as mayor of Davao, Mindanao’s biggest city, but the rise of the Maute and signs that it has ties to another network, the Abu Sayyaf, present one of the biggest challenges of a presidency won on promises to restore law and order.

Philippine intelligence indicates the two groups from different parts of Mindanao are connected, through Isnilon Hapilon, a leader of a radical faction of Abu Sayyaf.

He was the target of Tuesday’s failed raid by troops on Maute hideout in Marawi and Calida said Islamic State had declared Hapilon its “emir” in the Philippines.

Abu Sayyaf is notorious for piracy and kidnappings and beheading captives, among them Westerners. Though less known, the Maute group has proven itself a fierce battlefield opponent for the military with its ability to sustain days of air and artillery bombardments and regroup after incurring heavy losses.

Duterte started warning of a spread of radicalism last year after a bombing in Davao City in September killed 14 people and wounded dozens. The Maute was also blamed for a failed bombing near the U.S. embassy in Manila in November.

(Additional reporting by Tom Allard in ILIGAN and Enrico dela Cruz in MANILA; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Nick Macfie)


Former Philippine military and intel officers have told Peace and Freedom that it is unclear how many and how dedicated these foreign fighters may be, if any. They suspect some tricky work by the Duterte administration and believe that when more outside media arrives “a more clear light will be shed upon the truth.”

“Beware of manufactured evidence,” a retired Philippine general told us.



Foreigners with Islamic State synpathies involved in deadly Philippine urban battle — “Mindanao is no longer a rebellion of Filipino citizens.” — “Islamic State wanted an Islamic Province here”

May 26, 2017

MARAWI (PHILIPPINES) (AFP) – Foreigners are among Islamist gunmen battling security forces in a southern Philippine city, the government said Friday as the reported death toll from four days of clashes climbed to 46.

President Rodrigo Duterte imposed martial law across the southern region of Mindanao on Tuesday, hours after gunmen loyal to the Islamic State group rampaged through Marawi city in response to a raid on one of their safe houses.

“What is happening in Mindanao is no longer a rebellion of Filipino citizens. It has transmogrified into an invasion by foreign fighters,” Solicitor General Jose Calida, the government’s chief lawyer, told reporters in the southern city of Davao.

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Soldiers took positions while evading sniper fire as they tried to clear Marawi of militants on Thursday. Credit Jes Aznar, Getty Images

He said Malaysians, Indonesians, Singaporeans and “other foreign jihadists” were fighting in Marawi, one of the biggest Muslim cities in the mainly Catholic Philippines with about 200,000 residents.

Philippine military spokesman Brigadier-General Restituto Padilla said six foreign fighters are believed to have been killed in the Marawi fighting, including Malaysians, Indonesians and another nationality which he did not specify.

Calida said these foreign fighters had heeded a “clarion call” of IS to travel to Mindanao to put up a “wilayat” or IS province, if they could not go to fight in Iraq or Syria.

Padilla said 11 soldiers, two policemen and 31 militants had been confirmed killed in the fighting, which has involved the military bombing buildings where the militants have been hiding.

Two civilians were also killed inside a hospital that the gunmen had occupied on Tuesday, and the military was investigating reports that nine people had been murdered at a checkpoint the militants had set up, authorities said.

The fighting erupted on Tuesday after security forces raided a house where they believed Isnilon Hapilon, a leader of the infamous Abu Sayyaf kidnap-for-ransom gang and Philippine head of IS, was hiding.

The United States regards Hapilon as one of the world’s most dangerous terrorists, offering a bounty of $5 million for his capture.

The raid went spectacularly wrong as dozens of gunmen emerged to repel the security forces, then went on a rampage across the city while flying black IS flags.

Authorities said ending the crisis was proving extremely hard because the militants were moving nimbly through homes, had planted bombs in the streets, and were holding hostages.

They said militants had also occupied higher ground in the city, enabling them to slow down or stop assaults from the security forces.


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Philippine refugees fleeing the fighting, May 24, 2017. Residents fleeing Marawi on Wednesday. Credit Ted Aljibe — Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Singapore: Man who exhorted Muslims to take up arms and wage militant jihad is arrested in Singapore

July 29, 2016


Zulfikar Mohamad Shariff, 44, was arrested and detained in Singapore this month.PHOTO: FACEBOOK

SINGAPORE – A Singaporean who actively spread radical ideology online and helped radicalise at least two other citizens has been detained under the Internal Security Act.

Zulfikar Mohamad Shariff, 44, had been living in Australia for 14 years, after leaving Singapore with his family shortly after run-ins with Muslim leaders and the authorities.

He was arrested and detained in Singapore this month (July) for terrorism-related activities, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said in a statement on Friday (July 29).

Zulfikar made numerous Facebook posts that promoted and glorified terror group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and its violent actions such as beheadings, “while exploiting religion to legitimise the terrorist activities of ISIS”, the ministry said.

“He has further exhorted Muslims to take up arms and wage militant jihad in places like the Middle East, Palestinian territories, Myanmar and the Philippines,” it added.

His postings contributed to the radicalisation of at least two other Singaporeans.

In addition, he planned to hold training programmes to persuade young Singaporeans to join his extremist agenda of replacing Singapore’s secular, democratic system with an Islamic state, by violence if necessary.

Zulfikar’s postings contributed to the radicalisation of at least two other Singaporeans.

MHA said Zulfikar had started becoming radicalised as early as 2001 after reading hardline material, supporting groups like Al-Qaeda and the Jemaah Islamiah, and advocating for Muslims to take up arms in Afghanistan after the Sept 11, 2001, terror attacks on the United States.

Zulfikar came under the spotlight in 2002 for challenging mainstream Muslim leaders and agitating for primary schoolgirls to be allowed to wear the headscarf in schools here.

He resettled his family in Australia that year, and continued to pursue extremism by joining a hardline organisation called Hizbut Tahrir. He also established and maintained contact with radical preachers such as Musa Cerantonio in Australia and radical British cleric Anjem Choudary, said MHA.

Zulfikar also cultivated an Internet following by setting up an online group called Al-Makhazin in 2013. He used Facebook to create numerous Al-Makhazin platforms, such as Al-Makhazin Singapore, with the claimed purpose of countering Western media.

But the true intent of these pages was to agitate on Muslim issues in Singapore as a means to spread his radical ideology, and get his online followers to reject the secular democratic nation-state system and replace it with an Islamic caliphate governed by syariah law.

“Zulfikar has admitted that he had an ulterior motive for setting up a Facebook page called Al-Makhazin Singapore which he used as a platform to agitate on Muslim issues in Singapore and attack some Singaporean Muslims who did not share his views,” said MHA.

“His real agenda was in fact to provoke Muslims in Singapore into pushing for the replacement of the democratic system with an Islamic state in Singapore. He said that he hid his ulterior motive from the Singaporean ‘Al-Makhazin Singapore’ members.”

Zulfikar was issued with a detention order for a period of two years.

The two Singaporeans that he helped to radicalise are security guard Muhammad Shamin Mohamed Sidek, 29, who was detained last July, and businessman Mohamad Saiddhin Abdullah, 33, who was issued with a Restriction Order this month.

Saiddhin identified Zulfikar, whom he befriended online, as the person who had influenced him to support ISIS. He also reposted Zulfikar’s postings on ISIS and posted photos of himself in front of an ISIS flag as a show of solidarity with its militants in Syria and Iraq.

Those on restriction orders are not allowed to move house, change jobs or travel abroad without permission from the director of the Internal Security Department. They also cannot issue public statements or speak at public meetings without his approval.

“The Government takes a very serious view of efforts to undermine Singapore’s constitutional democracy, and will take firm and decisive action against any person who engages in such activities,” said MHA.

Two other Singaporeans have also been dealt with under the ISA, said the MHA.

Muhammad Fadil Abdul Hamid, 27, was detained in April for trying to join a terror group like ISIS to engage in armed violence in Syria. He was previously detained in 2010 after he became self-radicalised, and was placed under Restriction Order in 2012 after he made some progress in reintegrating into society. But he became attracted to radical online material again, said MHA.

Another, a 17-year-old male who recently graduated from a madrasah, was issued a Restriction Order – which limits his movement – this month after investigations showed he had become radicalised online from accessing pro-ISIS videos, websites and social media. MHA said the man, who was not named, became convinced that partaking in the violence in Syria was “justifiable jihad” and harboured the intention to fight alongside ISIS militants in Syria.

Two other radicalised Singaporeans have shown improvement.

Lawyer Abdul Basheer Abdul Kader, 37, who was arrested abroad in 2007 and detained again in 2012 as he tried to travel to Syria to fight, was released conditionally in February after authorities said he no longer posed a security threat that requires preventive detention. The Restriction Order placed on Rijal Yadri Jumari, 35, who was a member of terror group Jemaah Islamiah’s cell in Pakistan, was also allowed to lapse in March.

Singapore jails Filipino nurse for ‘seditious’ posts

September 21, 2015


Ed Mundsel Bello Ello at a court appearance in April. He was convicted of promoting feelings of ill-will and hostility. ST PHOTO/WONG KWAI CHOW

SINGAPORE — A Singapore court on Monday sentenced a Filipino nurse to four months in prison for posting inflammatory comments on Facebook against Singaporeans and lying to police investigators.

Ello Ed Mundsel Bello, 29, a former employee of government-run Tan Tock Seng Hospital, had posted comments on Facebook in January insulting Singaporeans and calling for the takeover of the city-state by his countrymen.

State Courts Judge Siva Shanmugam sentenced Bello to three months in jail for sedition in relation to his Facebook posts, and another month for lying to police who investigated him following complaints from the public.

Singapore, a densely populated immigrant nation which suffered racial riots in the 1960s, uses sedition laws to clamp down on locals and foreigners found to have incited ethnic tensions.

In a Facebook post on January 2, Bello wrote: “Singaporeans are loosers (sic) in their own country, we take their jobs, their future, their women and soon we will evict all SG loosers (sic)out of their own country hahaha.”

READ: Singapore hospital sacks Filipino nurse for ‘offensive’ online remarks

In a subsequent comment, Bello said “we will kick out all the Singaporeans and SG will be the new filipino state”.

After an outcry from Singaporeans, Bello took down his posts and claimed to police investigators that his account had been hacked by an unknown person. But he eventually admitted posting the comments.

Prosecutors said Bello’s misleading statements to the police aggravated his original offences and led to “unnecessary wastage” of investigative resources.

They had sought a sentence of five months in prison to “send a clear message to like-minded individuals that their behaviour will not be tolerated”.

Singaporeans who have written or published racist comments about other ethnic groups as well as foreigners have also been prosecuted.

The Filipino community in Singapore is estimated at more than 170,000.

About 40 percent of Singapore’s population of 5.5 million are foreigners. The wealthy city-state depends heavily on guest workers because of its low fertility rate.

Filipino nurse charged with sedition in Singapore
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