Posted by: mensab | April 9, 2008

From State to Human Security: A Necessary yet Marginal and Stalled Transition after 9/11 Attack

                                                                                                                                                                  Another controversial deal has hit the Philippine government again. This time it involves the disputed Spratlys Islands in South China Sea. Six states including the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan have conflicting claims over the islands on various bases such as geographical proximity, historical grounds, and falling under exclusive economic zone and within continental shelf (Collins, 2003, p. 189). The major motivation of these states is the essential resource acquisition of oil, gas, and fish believed to be found abundantly in Spratlys.


The root of the controversy is the Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking (JMSU). The Philippine government has entered the said undertaking with China and Vietnam covering 142,886 square-kilometer area, not in the disputed territory as earlier reported, but all in the Philippine territory. According to Cailao, president of Philippine national Oil Corporation (PNOC), the tripartite joint undertaking is pre-exploratory and a scientific study on oil potential of the area.[1]


In his column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on March 17, 2007, Bernas (2007), a noted constitutionalist, poses questions on the Spratlys deal, citing Article XII, Section 2 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution that reads; “The exploration, development, and utilization of natural resources shall be under the full control and supervision of the State. The State may directly undertake such activities, or it may enter into co-production, joint venture, or production-sharing agreements with Filipino citizens, or corporations or associations at least sixty per centum of whose capital is owned by such citizens.” One of his questions is “whether foreign entities can have a role in the exploration and development of natural resources” of the Philippines. The answers to his questions may have to wait. There is a secrecy clause to the deal which, according to Bernas, is “complete disregard of the constitutionally guaranteed right of the people to information on matters of public concern.”


As a peace student, how would I view the issue of Spratlys? Clearly though, the controversy stems from security issue. The threat of resource scarcity and state security vis-à-vis sovereignty seem to underpin the controversial and questionable Philippine government’s move to enter into agreement with staunch rivals in the disputed Spratlys. Since the undertaking is agreed on the state-level, the JMSU appears to be biased on state-centered framework of security. These three states, China in particular, have a great need for oil and gas to spur their economic activities and satiate the demand for those resources to be competitive in the globalizing markets. The undertaking, however, is apparently silent on the impact of the undertaking to the fishers who earn their living in the area. This muted part is the articulation of human security framework on which supposedly the fishers and their livelihood are secure and free from threats of displacement.


Based on various documents and event, this essay generally explores the attempt to shift the security discourse from state-centered to people-centered starting from the 1994 Human Development Report to the 9/11 attack in 2001 until the 2003 Human Security Now report. In this essay, it is argued that there is an incomplete transition due to threats of terrorism which brings back the state-centered discourse on security at the center stage. Presently in the Philippines, this state-centered security discourse is prevalent in the midst of the war on terror and legitimacy issue of the current regime. Consequently, the human security discourse takes a backseat, for the meantime. (I hope it will not be permanently shelved). This paper will look at the case of the Philippines to elaborate the argument of incomplete transition from state to human security.



State-centered security framework


             The popular realist view is that the state is in constant threat in this anarchic world. It puts premium on the traditional need of the state and its citizens to be secure from imagined and real threats, be they economic or physical and internal or external, coming from within or other states and actors. The United Nations (UN) Commission on Human Security Report in 2003 mentions that this traditional view would have the state monopolizing the rights and means to protect itself and its citizens (p.2). The power of the state would be used to institutionalize its defense against aggression and establish ties with neighboring states in a region to minimize the threats from other regions or ties with powerful states to project an image of borrowed security from those powerful states.


            The case of Spratlys is more than a strategic security area and sovereignty issue for the claimant-states. Although the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in which most claimants are members except China and Taiwan made a declaration in 1992 to settle their claims peacefully and not by force, there were incidents of skirmish between and among claimants (Collins, 2003, p. 196). Spratlys illustrates the self-interest of the claimants veiled in the economic cooperation stipulated in the recent and controversial deal. This self-interest of the states is evident in the secrecy clause attached to the deal. In the state-centered security framework, the states remain the main actors and players in the security discourse.


            However, there are many instances where states fail to provide security to their people. At times, states are the causes of insecurity of their people. “That is why attention must now shift from the security of the state to the security of the people – human security” (UN Commission on Human Security Report, 2003, p.2).




People-centered or human security framework


            The human security framework does not negate nor replace the state-centered security framework. Rather, it broadens and enhances the security discourse “from an exclusive concern with the security of the state to a concern with the security of the people” (Commission on Human Security Report, 2003). The two frameworks are understood to be “mutually-dependent” and complementary. Although the state security is a necessary condition to human security, state security does not necessarily lead to human security. In other words, security of the state is not a guarantee for human security. A good example of this is an authoritarian regime which is entrenchedly secure from external threats and yet tainted with various and gross human right violations.


            The 1994 Human Development Report on Human Security is said to have popularized the concept of human security. Drawing from the Human Development Report, Alkire (2003) notes the “intent of human security was to bridge the concepts of the freedom from want and freedom from fear, freedoms that lay at the heart of the philosophy of the UN” (p.18). She further explains that freedom from want is freedom from poverty whereas freedom from fear is freedom from violence. Based on the Report, she cites “four essential characteristics of human security: human security is a universal concern,”  “components of human security are interdependent, human security is easier to ensure through early prevention than later intervention,” and “human security is people-centered” (p.19).


The last characteristics of human security – people-centered, deserves further elaboration. It paves the way for the transition by broadening the security framework from state to human security. The Human Security Now report in 2003 contains basically the important discussions on human security and its relation to human rights and human development. It provides the definition of human security which “means protecting fundamental freedoms – freedoms that are the essence of life” (p.4). Since the concept of “essence of life” varies from individuals and societies, it avoids itemizing what human security is. But broadly speaking, human security embraces human development, human rights, good governance, healthcare, access to education, and opportunities and choices to achieve human potential (p.4).


Alkire (2003) presents the overview of the development and elements of the concept of human security from the 1994 Human Development Report to 2003 Commission on Human Security Report. In her conclusion, she remarks that the concept is being continuously researched and it leads to the narrowing of the definition. But she notes that various writers and reports have different list of dimensions and thresholds that should be met of human security (p.34). The wide usage and acceptance of the concept as desirable and valuable have caused states, international and regional organizations, and civil society groups to adopt human security framework in their endeavors and agenda.


With human security framework, the actors and players are not solely states. They include civil society groups, international and regional organizations, and people’s organizations. Human security framework has become a charming and mainstream concept to contest the traditional state security framework.



Threatening security by terrorism and legitimacy issue


            The transition from state security to human security is not without nuisances and threats. Sudden and dramatic changes could derail the transition. Fukuda-Parr (2003) identifies the “new threats to human security in the era of globalization” (p.1). Among these new threats seen in the context of globalization are economic and political liberalization, new information and communication technology, global crime, and human trafficking. She points out that these new threats created by globalization are “outpacing the capacity of governments to develop policy responses” (p.6). This was magnified in the drive against poverty, diseases like HIV-Aids, and other insecurities by the people to mitigate the worsening of these insecurities and problems.


Suddenly, a dramatic and unspeakable incident happened in 2001. When the 9/11 terrorist attack took place, there was a tightening of security by states to protect themselves from similar attack or commonly known as terrorism. Consequently, the war on terror was waged cutting across borders by the United States (US) -led coalition of the willing. This war on terror brought back the state security to the mainstream of security discourse.


There is value in understanding what derailed the transition and what brought back the state-security to the mainstream security discourse. What is terrorism then? There are various definitions of terrorism depending on who defines it and what context. Conteh-Morgan (2004) explains that:


The term terrorism has no widely accepted definition. It lacks conceptual precision, and as a result confusion tends to surround the concept. However, based on various definitions of the concept, certain indisputable elements predominate: 1) it is characterized by violence, actual or threatened; 2) its goal or objective is political in nature; 3) its perpetration can cause injury and death not only to the source of the political injustice, but to innocent persons as well; and 4) its strategy is the use of violence and terror to mobilize public opinion and thereby secure its political goal (p.256).


Due to terrorism, various states enacted and implemented rights-restricting measures to secure their borders and entry points from potential terrorists. States also tightened their grip on the movement of their own people. Somehow, states are “able to control its population through surveillance techniques” (Faulks, 1999, p.48). These control and surveillance techniques come in the form of strict inspection in the entry and exit points of states, nationalized identification, visa requirements, and powerful intelligence clout in the decision-making on issues. Most issues have been securitized, particularly political ones.


            Another threat to human security is the regime itself. Collins (2003) argues that:


If the regime is not regarded as legitimate by the population, then it and the elite in power are likely to face a challenge. Since the regime encompasses the political and legal system, such a challenge is likely to require activity outside normal politics. It was noted in Chapter 1 that according to the Copenhagen School, the use of extraordinary measures – that is, activity outside normal politics – is a criterion for determining if an issue has become a security issue” (p.64).


It is so even if the issue is a political one. A legitimacy issue is a threat to the survival of the regime. It can be seen as a challenge to its power and security.



The Philippine case


            It was the time of President Fidel Ramos (1992-1998) when the quintessential 1994 Human Development Report came out. It was Ramos too who initiated and implemented the Social Reform Agenda (SRA), a flagship program which tackled human insecurities such as poverty, health care, access to education, housing, among others. After Ramos, Joseph Estrada (1998-2001) became president. He was catapulted to power due to his Erap para sa Mahirap program, an anti-poverty program. Estrada was ousted from office and was succeeded by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (2001-present) through the second people power revolution. It is in the term of Arroyo that 9/11 happened and other various scandals involving her and her administration.


            As an ally of the US, the Philippines joins the bandwagon of the global war on terror, and at times at the forefront in the Southeast Asian region in the fight against terrorism. The ASEAN in which the Philippines is a member was challenged to act when a year after 9/11, the Bali bombing that killed more than 180 people, mostly tourists, shocked the vibrant tourist industry in the region which attracts millions of tourists every year. The ASEAN is dominantly Islamic with Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, and some portion of the Philippines, Thailand and Singapore. Collins (2003) talks about a plan to establish an Islamic caliphate in the region through “an alliance known as Rabitatul Mujahideen,” covering the six states (p.203). Suspected to have ties with Al-Qaida, Abu Sayaff and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the Philippines, and some groups in southern Thailand and Singapore, the Jemaah Islamiah (JI), included in the US list of terrorist groups, is the main operative of the plan. With JI and other groups in Southeast Asia, the region is tagged as the second front of the war on terrorism after Afghanistan and Pakistan (Ibid, 2003, p.200).


            For its part, the Philippines has its hands full in the fight against terrorism. It battles against Abu Sayyaf, the separatist movements of MILF, and splinter groups of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) which inked a peace deal with the Philippine government in 1996. It also has a standing three-decade war with the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), the New People’s Army (NPA) which is also in the US list of terror groups. This war on terror has been used by the states to legitimize their illegitimate methods of responding to national political issues, especially those states struggling for legitimacy like in the Philippines.  


In 2003, United Nation’s Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a ministerial-level meeting of Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Committee as quoted in the website of United Nations Information Service;

Domestically, he said, the danger was that in pursuit of security, crucial liberties were sacrificed. Internationally, the world was seeing an increasing use of the “T-word” of terrorism to demonize political opponents, throttle freedom of speech and the press, and delegitimize legitimate political grievances. Similarly, States fighting various forms of unrest or insurgency were finding it tempting to abandon political negotiation for the deceptively easy option of military action.

            Even the Human Security Now report in 2003 takes notice of this phenomenon when it says, “under the guise of waging a war against terrorism, human rights and humanitarian law are being violated” (p.5). In the Philippines, the current regime is accused of masterminding hundreds of extrajudicial killings since 2001 when it assumed power. The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston, released his final report on his mission to the Philippines on November 26, 2007. The report’s findings point to the Philippine military as the one behind the spate of extrajudicial killings. The rise of the killings coincided with the all-out war declared by the regime on the Maoist-NPAs. Incidentally, most of the victims of these killings were activists who were critical of the current regime.


            Interestingly, the current regime is experiencing a legitimacy crisis due to alleged cheating in the 2004 presidential election by the sitting president. The wiretapped conversation between the sitting president cum presidential candidate at that time and an election commissioner was the damning evidence of the manipulation of votes to favor the regime. Various attempts to unseat the sitting president were done through both legal and extralegal means such as impeachment, mutiny, mass protests, and mass resignations of cabinet secretaries, but to no avail. Scandals and anomalous deals like the Spratlys undertaking continue to hound and challenge the ascendancy to govern of the current regime.


            If a “regime faces a threat to its survival,” it will “regard the challenge as a security issue” more than a political issue (Collins, 2003, p.85). This is exactly what the current regime did. It issued a number of questionable executive orders (EOs) and proclamation number at the height of scandals and crises in 2005 and 2006 to quell and allay the growing political crisis in its effort and resolve to hold on to power. It invoked public good, order and security as the bases for these EOs which were seen as outright human rights violations. Most of these executive orders and their provisions like the Calibrated Pre-emptive Response, Proclamation No. 1017, and EO 164 barring public officials from appearing in the Senate investigation without permission from the Chief Executive were found to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.


In one of the decisions of the Supreme Court in G.R. No. 171396, the High Court stressed that, “One of the misfortunes of an emergency, particularly, that which pertains to security, is that military necessity and the guaranteed rights of the individual are often not compatible.” State security was essential and primary in the survival of threatened states.


In the Philippine case, the regime is able to survive and wither the crises because it exercises its power to defend itself from internal threats and invoke the state-centered security framework at the expense of human rights and human security.





            The war on terror still rages on in the Philippines. It remains in the agenda of the current regime as it confronts the “terrorists” like the NPA, Abu Sayyaf, separatists like MILF and MNLF. Cloaked in this global war on terror, the local war on terror by the current regime is believed to be grossly and blatantly violating human rights with impunity. This perception of “state-sponsored terrorism” is adding more insecurities to the people. The sudden surge in extrajudicial killings and disappearances in 2005 and 2006 is attributed to both war on terror and legitimacy crisis of the current regime.


            The current regime is still struggling for legitimacy. The allegations of broad electoral fraud and manipulation of votes remain unresolved and continue to pester the regime with persistent calls for resignation. The crisis for legitimacy necessitates the current regime to invoke the state-centered security framework and tighten its grip for power. The abolition of the threat to its survival becomes its primary goal. Thus, it precludes the current regime from initiating and pursuing programs that embody human security framework which has been started in the mid-1990s.


            Due to threats of terrorism and legitimacy crisis, the Philippine regime stalls the wave of transition of security discourse from state security to human security. In fact, it reverts back to state security framework as it dispels the threats of terrorism and tries to gain legitimacy through security policies that show and force at the disposal of the state. The recent Spratlys controversy highlights the security framework with which the Philippine regime is working on – it is state-centered, and not people-centered security framework which is necessary for human rights and human development.






Alkire, S. (2003). Concepts of Human Security. In L. Chen. et. al. (Eds.), Human

Insecurity in a Globalized World (pp. 15-39). Boston, MA: Global Equity Initiative, Asian Center, Harvard University.



Alston, Philip. (2007). Promotion and Protection of all Human Rights, Civil, Political,

Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, including the Right to Development: Report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary  executions. Retrieved December 3, 2007, from


Bernas, J. (2008). Some questions about Spratlys deal. Retrieved March 20, 2008, from


Collins, A. (2003). Security and Southeast Asia. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian



Conteh-Morgan, E. (2004). Collective Political Violence: An Introduction to the Theories

and Cases of Violent Conflicts. New York: Routledge.


Faulks, k. (1999). Political Sociology: A Critical Introduction. Great Britain: Edinburgh



Fukuda-Parr, S. (2003). New Threats to Human Security in the Era of Globalization. In

L. Chen. et. al. (Eds.), Human Insecurity in a Globalized World (pp. 1-13). Boston, MA: Global Equity Initiative, Asian Center, Harvard University. Retrieved March 17,



Ho, A. (2008). PNOC: JMSU area all in RP. Makati City: Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Retrieved March 20, 2008, from


Human Security Now. (2003). UN Commission on Human Security Report. N

[1] See Ho, Abigail (2008). PNOC: JMSU area all in RP. Philippine Daily Inquirer. Retrieved from


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