Terrorists don’t have to kill anyone to win
Thankfully, our fears of a follow-up bombing after the bombing in Hilongos, Leyte, did not happen during the Sinulog and the Miss Universe pageant’s swimsuit competition.
One of the biggest security measures never done in the past, in response to potential terrorist threats, was disabling cell phone signal.
Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña and regional police explained that explosives could be detonated using cellular signal, therefore shutting down telecommunications systems for most of the final two days of the Sinulog celebration and during the Miss Universe swimsuit competition that took place last January 17 was justified.
But was shutting down signal a proportional response to the actual threat, if there was any threat really justified? One factor to consider is that terrorists are creative, resourceful and there is enough technology available to detonate explosives even without cellular signal.
In the 90s, terrorists used timers. Now it is possible to detonate explosives using a number of methods that don’t require cellular signal.
On January 9, prior to the Feast of the Nazareno in Manila, police had raided an Islamic center with no clear explanation on what intelligence the raid was based on. So after every attack, or threat of attack, will the part of the response then be to target Muslim communities?
While security is a matter that should be taken seriously under all circumstances, security protocols should be well-crafted and planned and not be –or at least appear to not be – a knee-jerk response.
Post-Sinulog and Miss Universe organizers, police, military and local governments must sit down, review, discuss, assess and strategize their response to local and international security threats moving forward.
Days after the bombing in Davao City last September 2016, police officials in the Central Visayas also tightened security in the region. One even recommended residents to avoid unnecessary travel.
On Facebook and other messenger apps, hoax threats began to circulate, and even the most educated would fall victim to these fake alerts.
I understand, to some extent, that this region, especially Cebu and the Central Visayas have been typically insulated from any major terrorist attacks in the past. So dealing with the fear of terrorists is very new for many Cebuanos. But a reality Cebuanos must come to terms with is the possibility that our terror-free days have long come to an end. Does this mean we should stop our lives, start living more fearfully and suspicious of each other? It certainly does not.
Over 16 years ago, when terrorists flew commercial planes into the World Trade Center in New York City, in 2001, many Americans were confused and when they saw images of the attackers as Muslim men, fear took over the country.
Immigrants, especially those of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent, often became the subject of racist attacks, fearful of unknown terrorist plots on the horizon.
The lesson that we should learn from the Americans now is that this is not the way to respond to terrorist threats.
Last March 2016, then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton tweeted, “In the face of terror, America doesn’t panic or build walls or turn our back on our allies. This is time for us to lead, not cower.”
While the terrorist threat we face here in Visayas is much different than the ones our western counterparts face, this is one piece of advice we can take seriously: The only way to face terror is with courage.
What does this mean?
For police, military and local officials, this means carrying the burden of ensuring security and the feeling of security, even while there is no way to guarantee it. So the difficult question of how to do it is a question they will have to constantly ask themselves every day while they hold their positions.
For citizens, facing terrorism with courage means refusing to stop our daily lives because of potential attacks; not panicking every time an unconfirmed chain message of terrorist threats are passed around on social media; and most importantly, it means not shunning or targeting members of the Muslim community members here in Cebu City.
Terrorists don’t have to kill a single person to win, because even if we live – but live in fear – they still win.
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