|No room for complacency|
Either the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) knows something the rest of the world doesn’t, or else it is in a state of denial and is taking a rather cavalier attitude towards the current global threat of terrorism. To recall, several packages containing bombs had been intercepted on their way to specific targets in the US last week, and this has sparked a worldwide terror alert that no country in its right mind has ignored. Security has been tightened all over the world not just in passenger facilities but also in courier services, the very establishments that had been used by terrorists in launching – almost – their attacks.
But while the world is on alert, the authorities in the Philippines are apparently taking it all in stride, even declaring that there is “no imminent danger” in the country. This even after Canada, US, UK, France, Australia and New Zealand gave warning that a terrorist attack was imminent in Metro Manila and other key targets, telling their respective citizens what places to avoid because an attack could be mounted “at any time.” While their travel advisories were not changed, two countries did tell their people to stay away from obvious targets like malls, travel facilities, and other such establishments. And what does our government do? It basically ignores the whole thing.
The most the military would say is that there is a “potential threat,” not an “imminent danger,” and that makes the whole situation much more dangerous. Without an acknowledgement of the threat, no real security measures would be put in place. At a time when terrorism just got more real through the use of courier services – a service that we all use at one time or another – there is no room for complacency. Of course it could be that the authorities simply do not want to create a panic, and that would be laudable, but it would be a greater disservice to keep the people in the dark during a potential crisis. The people need to be able to prepare themselves, but this smug attitude on the part of the authorities is preventing that.
One of the incongruities of Davao City life is the presence of police and military checkpoints in strategic areas. These checkpoints are a constant presence in the city, and motorists – particularly those on motorcycles – know that they will have to contend with them at one point or another. The police and military personnel are on the lookout for those who may try to spirit weapons, drugs, and other contraband into the city, and indeed, over the years they have nipped many such attempts in the bud and kept the city safe. There is, however, one crime they have not been able to prevent, and this is where the incongruity lies: for all the years the checkpoints have been conducted, not one of them has caught any of the gunmen who have killed hundreds of suspected criminals in the city. Worse, they have never been able to prevent the commission of the extra-judicial killings that have marred Davao City’s otherwise clean record.
In the last week of October alone, despite the implementation of stricter security throughout the city with the coming of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, several men were shot or stabbed dead in a series of summary killings perpetrated by men on motorcycles – the very type of people supposedly being targeted by the checkpoints. That the killers were able to slip through the gauntlet of police officers and soldiers means that either the checkpoints are ineffectual or the personnel manning them are looking the other way – neither of which are particularly acceptable from any standpoint. But what else can one conclude when killers are on a rampage and the authorities can neither catch them nor stop them?
The checkpoints probably do serve a purpose for the city, and in many ways we owe our peace and order to them. Instituted as part of the regular security measures since the 2003 bombings that hit the airport and wharf, they have deterred criminals from wreaking similar havoc ever since. But to say that the city has become crime-free is to be sorely mistaken: even if one were to believe that all the victims of summary executions were criminals, there is still no place in a civilized society for extra-judicial killings. Due process is still the paramount principle as it ensures that no one is judge, jury, and executioner all rolled into one. The checkpoints have failed Davao City in this respect, and it is time to take the police and the military to task for allowing the killings to continue.
Jon Joaquin is the managing editor of the largest circulation newspaper in Mindanao, the Mindanao Daily Mirror in Davao City.