Think Tank (2/2024)
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Psychology of Defeat: Advancing Theory and Strategy to Protect the State Against Communist Terrorist Groups
04 Apr 2024

In his webinar on the “Psychology of Defeat: Advancing Theory and Strategy to Protect the State Against Communist Terrorist Groups”, held on 4 Apr 2024, Colonel Jo-ar Herrera, Chief of the Public Affairs Division of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Civil Military Relations in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), presented findings from his study on the stages and factors of surrender among the Communist Party of the Philippines – New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).

Col Herrera highlighted that the Philippines’ terrorism landscape has changed significantly in the past seven years. In 2017, the country stood out as the sole Southeast Asian nation to rank among the ten worst-performing countries on the Global Terrorism Index. By 2022, however, the Philippines has managed to notably curb terrorist operations as signified by its success in inducing over 10,000 terrorist surrenders.

Using Grounded Theory Approach and Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis on interviews with nine high ranking terrorists from the CPP-NPA, Col Herrera identified that successful surrenders occur through four stages. First is the Self Defeat that is marked by a change in one’s perception of self-concept and community. Second is the Organisational Defeat that is marked by sustained disillusionment with one’s organisation. Third is the Ideological Defeat that is marked by an individual’s ideological disengagement. Lastly, is the Victory in Defeat where the individual finds acceptance in defeat and looks forward to his transformation.

Based on these findings, Col Herrera assessed that the Philippines current Whole-of-Nation counter-terrorism approach under the Executive Order 70 (EO-70) still has significant gaps. While it has been highly successful in ushering Organisational Defeat through the AFP’s use of hard and soft approach, it has only moderately succeeded in engendering Ideological Defeat and Victory in Defeat.

Hence, to induce more effective and sustained surrenders, Col Herrera recommends the Philippines government to further cement the country’s current Whole-of-Nation counter-terrorism approach by institutionalising EO-70 through legislation and developing robust information operations infrastructures that are essential for effectively monitoring and facilitating terrorists’ psychology of defeat.

The presentation’s follow-up discussion segment further explored the role of religion in CPP-NPA’s surrender process and whether these findings can also be used to devise counter-terrorism strategies against Philippines’ jihadist organisations. Col. Herrera remarked that while religion does help provide alternate narratives to CPP-NPA surrenderees in the same way it does to jihadists, differences in ideology and community context between the two groups necessitates unique counter-terrorism approaches which future studies will need to test.

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