Vigilance on all fronts

Last Sunday’s heinous bombing at the Mindanao State University gymnasium in Marawi City—while the regularly scheduled morning Catholic Mass was being celebrated—is yet another incident in our country’s long history of struggle against the dark forces that seek to sow discord among our people.

The four fatalities and 50 injured people, along with an estimated 200 Mass attendees that fateful morning, are now the latest in a long roster of victims of the terrorism that plagues the Philippines despite the state’s best efforts to eradicate it.

Also victimized by this abhorrent and cowardly attack are the members of the broader community of Marawi which is still in the process of picking up the pieces and rebuilding six years after terrorists laid siege to the city, resulting in large sections of it being leveled as government forces moved to retake control.

Justice must be servedFirst things first: Justice must be served.

The authorities must exhaust all available means to apprehend those responsible for this bombing and bring them to justice. This means, first of all, mobilizing the state’s law enforcement apparatus to go after these perpetrators and, preferably, arrest them and bring them to trial.It is, of course, more convenient to simply “neutralize” them (government’s preferred word for “kill” of late). But the cause of justice will be better served by arresting these terrorists and subjecting them to that own special terror of a lifetime behind bars.

These perpetrators should be hunted down by our law enforcers to the farthest corners of the country. And should they manage to escape beyond our borders, the government should issue international arrest warrants to make them wanted men around the world. There must be no safe harbor anywhere for these terrorists.

Caught flatfootedThen there is the issue of the authorities being caught flatfooted again in this latest terrorist act in this troubled region. Whatever happened to the intelligence gathering by the military and police? Considering that the bombing came after the military killed 11 members of the Maute group and the alleged Abu Sayyaf’s chief bomb maker during separate operations, the authorities should have placed crowded areas under heightened alert in anticipation of possible retaliatory attacks.

All the debates about intelligence funds being rightfully given to the agencies involved in national security were meant precisely to prevent terror activities by homegrown extremists with links to international terrorists.That the act of terrorism was perpetrated during a Catholic Mass is reprehensible. But let’s leave religion out of the discussion and our subsequent actions because, obviously, that is what these criminals want to happen.

Religious tensionsClearly, the terrorists’ cynical plan was to incite religious tensions or worse, so we must not give these terrorists the satisfaction of delivering to them the chaos they crave.

Apart from bringing these terrorists to justice, the second-best way our people can defeat them and their odious pseudo-ideology is to show the world that we will not take the bait and allow last Sunday’s bombing to open old wounds.

Islam is a religion of peace, just as much as Christianity is. And it behooves all sides to live this truth in their daily lives, now more than ever when external forces are trying to upset a peace that every stakeholder has fought hard to win.

That being said, every stakeholder must take this opportunity to recommit to the cause of peace in Mindanao, however difficult last Sunday’s incident may make it seem.Peace in the south was won in recent years through blood, sweat, and tears—quite literally—and we must not allow the actions of a few criminals to derail our journey on the path of progress.

Double down on peaceThe Bangsamoro homeland is moving and growing in the right direction with its leaders committed to the welfare of its people, and finally enjoying the benefits of resources, both from the national government and from foreign partners, for the first time in many years.

President Marcos should take this opportunity to double down on peace initiatives in the region, including a greater emphasis on economic development as well as integrating former rebel fighters into society.

And while our country continues to face external challenges from China’s aggressive territorial ambitions, we should remember that domestic threats remain very real, and should be faced down with the same amount of determination.

Ultimately, we must remember that, to paraphrase American statesman Thomas Jefferson, the price of freedom from terrorism is the eternal vigilance of every peace-loving Filipino.