As I write this on a Saturday, my mobile phone strangely shows no signal. This came after we got a text from the network last night that it will be shutting down for the weekend, starting today. This has been the much-expected shutdown of all cellular phone services that has been talked about in the local media as Sinulog approaches. This drastic measure is said to be an important part of government strategy to avert a possible terrorist attack during the Sinulog procession and Grand Parade.
Signal jamming prevents the terrorists from using mobile phones to remotely trigger a bomb. It has been used in several previous terrorist attacks here and abroad, giving perpetrators of such attacks the advantage of safely detonating explosives from locations that made it hard for authorities to track down.
So the police have found a way to prevent this kind of scenario, with the help of the telecommunications networks, of course. The public, especially those who will be joining the procession and the parade, have also been asked to collaborate by making that little sacrifice of not being able to use their mobile phones during such important events.
This means no calling and texting to friends and family. As internet connection for smartphones will be affected, it also means no communications via e-mail, Messenger, Viber, etc., as we will not be able to have WiFi connections during the time.
It thus practically disables what is now our main form of communication: mobile online connectivity. Much of our social life has been created by such ease of instantly getting in touch with each other through our gadgets. To some people, especially the so-called millennials, this is tantamount to forced fasting — digital fasting, that is.
So unlike in the last Sinulog festivities, we expect to have less instant or live postings from friends who are in the middle of the activities. No usual selfie or shoutouts, no live videos. There’s no way we can “check in” or give away our locations so friends can catch up to join us. I wonder how friends and family who might be separated during the processions and parades will find each other in the middle of a huge crowd.
The telecom networks too, which looked forward to the Sinulog as one of their busiest and thus most profitable seasons, are also taking this ultimate sacrifice of shutting down at the time when they were supposed to earn the most.
So the terrorists have inflicted serious damage on big business, tourism and our lifestyle without even doing anything. But it’s not that they are or they are not likely to do something. The foiled attempt to bomb people watching a football match in a big stadium in Paris last year, the recent use of a big truck to ram people in a Christmas night market in Germany, and the bombing of a fiesta celebration in nearby Hilongos recently prove that terrorists prefer to target crowds having fun.
The terrorists envy our freedom and our lifestyle. They hate every occasion that we express our collective joy in our way of life and the fact that we can celebrate openly and peacefully.
But times have changed, these extremists don’t just stop at preaching and rhetoric. They have waged a virtually invisible war against our freedom, taking advantage of that very freedom to attack us. Let’s fight back not by giving up our way of life, our celebrations, our collective expressions of faith.
But we should be ready to make little sacrifices, starting with some of our indulgences, like our addiction to gadgets, which by the way are only distracting us from what are essential.
And the self-righteousness of the terrorists is rooted exactly in their perception that ours is a culture of self-indulgence, crass materialism and bacchanalia, which indeed are the excesses we find ironically during festivals that originally were meant to be religious or spiritual. And it’s a valid perception although not an excuse to justify killings.
So this forced silence or digital fasting might yet prove to be spiritually good for us. We might yet emerge to be more mindful of our indulgences and more focused on what truly matters: our core values and faith. They are the things worth saving and dying for.
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