Manila is hosting APEC heads of state including Barack Obama and Xi Jinping but Paris looms over the high-powered summit after Friday’s deadly attacks by Islamic State terrorists.
Philippine law enforcement agencies, working with their foreign counterparts, have tightened security in the capital and around the country and ramped up intelligence gathering on potential threats.
The Philippines itself, especially in parts of the southern island of Mindanao, has had an on-and-off Muslim insurgency dating back to the 1970s.
A large part of the Muslim population are peace-loving people who have been trying to integrate into the mainstream.
There are a few isolated pockets of armed rebellion by people who are unhappy with Manila’s treatment of their plight.
A proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, which envisages an autonomous region to be funded by taxpayers, was advanced by a group of armed rebels in exchange for peace.
The proposal is held up in congress amid fierce public opposition.
There are fringe extremist groups, some linked to al Qaeda and a few suspected of supporting Islamic State.
Most operate in the rugged islands off Mindanao and largely subsist on kidnappings for ransom.
There have been reports that some extremists have managed to blend with regular communities.
A few months ago, an attempt to capture the Bali bombing suspects turned into a bloody massacre for 44 members of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force, a special counter-terrorism paramilitary unit.
This turned into a major embarrassment for the government of President Benigno Aquino III which has been accused of mishandling the operation.
The APEC summit takes place this week against that backdrop.
The atmosphere in the capital is subdued after the initial excitement over having the eyes of the world on it.
Security arrangements will make it hard to put the country on display. The good thing is more work could be done without the usual distractions.
For instance, the delegates could hunker down to tackle climate change, an issue that resonates with Filipinos who have more than their fair share of natural disasters.
Haiyan (Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines), one of the most devastating cyclones ever recorded, struck the central islands of Samar, Leyte and neighboring provinces in November 2013.
Over the long term, increased rainfall and flooding, stronger winds and drought will affect millions of people.
Climate change brings havoc to the country’s main economic activities — agriculture and fishing — and hurts the poor.
APEC has a chance to address the issue more meaningfully even as the leaders of the 21 Pacific Rim economies remind themselves about other threats to humanity such as the terrorist bloodbath half a world away.
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