Facing new threats

MISREADINGS | Ted Aldwin E. OngThe war against illegal drugs has claimed 1,247 lives based on the latest count. The night market explosion that happened early September in Davao City claimed 14 lives. The former is barely two months in the making and still ongoing. The latter, on the other hand, was mounted in the shortest period possible and accomplished right away.

The killings related on the war on drugs required a president gets elected. Carrying out terror attacks, on the other hand, requires no leader these days. Some individual sympathetic or inspired by an ideology, skillful or untrained, linked or without connection to networks or groups can create attacks.

According to the administration through interior secretary Mike Sueno, the Davao City night market bombing was not a failure of intelligence work because it was anticipated. There was an offensive undertaken in Sulu and the war on drugs is taking course.

Police chief Ronald dela Rosa pointed out that it was related to the war on drugs – terrorist groups and drug lords had joined hands. Yet the police chief was unsure if it was Abu Sayyaf who was responsible as initially reported or disgruntled groups from Abu Sayyaf or some individuals trained by the late bomb making expert Marwan.

Apparently, government actions in the aftermath of the explosion that also seriously injured 70 people revealed confusion and disorder. The ultimate evidence of that is the declaration of the state of lawlessness by no less than the President. Even that declaration was confusing by itself in terms of coverage of enforcement: was it for Davao only or the entire nation.

After so many exchanges between presidential secretary Bong Go and the members of the cabinet, and to add, members of the media, the declaration was settled upon and that it applies nationwide. It was then followed by an announcement by President Duterte that more attacks is being expected.

Here lies the success of killing only 14 people using terror method and the failure of having 1,247 in the anti-illegal drugs campaign. The impact from the terror attack was able to attain its desired result from the government side while the administration has yet to present concrete result of the impact of its anti-illegal drugs campaign.

Both efforts from two different ends might not share the same elements but war, whether against illegal drugs or against historical injustice, is “merely a continuation of politics by other means,” said Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz. It is simply imposing once will over the other using methods that can effectively communicate to the public.

The clarity of delivering that message can mobilize or immobilize the public and so ragtag, or so it seems, the Davao City night market explosion that also seriously injured 70 people cannot be under-estimated. It delivers a valuable public message, both domestically and internationally, and which summons attention from terror movements or governments expanding sphere of influence in the region. There is money in these efforts and the attack can attract dormant resources that can be utilized for political ends.

What did the Davao City night market explosion showed? Many things. It reveals the vulnerability of the Duterte administration, the weakness of internal security and protection, the frailty of government institution to confront war on various fronts apart from anti-illegal drugs, and questionably its preparedness in terms of resources to sustain effort of fighting terror attacks once it becomes an organized effort.

The explosion showed vulnerability. It opened a space to display that the tough talking president lacks the capacity to play head in determining potential threats and terror actions. Secretary Sueno offers respite psychologically by saying that government intelligence did not fail, but the successful attack had proved otherwise. Sec. Mike Sueno can learn more about good intelligence work by watching James Bond films instead or reading novels.

President Duterte might be tough but try that show of toughness by appraising the actual security process like in a shopping mall and you will see the pathetic protocol undertaken by security personnel. Then you get the meaning of vulnerability and feel how distant the president to real threats on the ground.

It also exposed the weakness of the administration in terms of internal security. Perceived drug lords are getting killed not by state police but by unknown assailants. PNP officials and President Duterte dismissed the issues of extrajudicial killings by vigilantes, but unlike terrorists who claim they are responsible for the 14 dead, the administration has yet to claim responsibility of the 1,247 dead under its anti-illegal drugs campaign.

Terrorists are mindful that the more that the government is fixated in its anti-illegal drugs campaign, the more it shows its vulnerability in fighting other sources of threats. The more that it spreads its attention thinly to all threats, the more room for vulnerability and attacks.

So the simple attack was carried out in Exhibit A because it has been showed many times over that this city is bullet proof and has the best system until. Well, just a backpack was left at the public massage area and Exhibit A earned an Exhibit A-1 showing its weakness in full.

A trained terrorist understands fully well the security procedure; hence, it can carry an appropriate device for the situation. Terrorism knows no 30-years checkered chief executive experience, but it flourishes with familiarity on how egos play among politicians, the instincts that they depend upon, and their warrior-like skills and tendencies to commit actions.

Terror methods adopt with the changing contexts and sophistication of state security procedures. It is always a method used to challenge how politicians use state power and resources. President Duterte recognizes it and acknowledges that because he is tough, he will be challenged. But terrorism does not only focus in challenging arrogance and toughness; it is also an experiment that tests the stupidity of leaders.

Fighting illegal drugs is different from fighting terror attacks. It has its own political contexts and agenda. But one thing is clear, perpetrators in terror attacks are willing to kill and die unlike in illegal drugs trade wherein a threat of killings can send chills.

This is not to hail the Davao City night market explosion a success but the public fear, confusion, disorder and uncertainty that it created exposed the opposite of what President Duterte is trying to publicly project and bared his administration’s lack of capability in waging a war against terror attacks.