FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

Terrorism is the curse of our time.

Last Thursday, terrorists mounted simultaneous attacks in Jakarta, armed with guns and grenades. Prompt police response limited the casualties. After a prolonged firefight, two civilians and five terrorists were killed. Nineteen other civilians were wounded.

The attacks in Jakarta resembled the bloody Paris attacks last November. They involved cells of separate suicide attacks targeting soft targets. The Jakarta attackers, however, seemed to lack the will to kill in large number and the training to undertake their murderous missions.

The Jakarta attacks happened only days after terrorists mounted a similar operation in Istanbul. ISIS claims authorship for both attacks. It appears the terror group is intent on spreading the scope of their attacks to create the image of global reach.

Jakarta’s police chief attributes the terror attack on Bahrun Naim, and Indonesian now based in ISIS-controlled territory in Syria. Naim was previously arrested by Indonesian police for illegal possession of arms and ammunition and sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison. After his release, he is believed to have fled to Syria.

Naim maintained contacts in Indonesia and is believed to be behind a blog that discusses weapons and tactics for terror operations. He is likewise believed to have sent financial support to cells in Indonesia to be used for such operations.

The role Naim plays in the Jakarta attacks highlights the peril posed by the thousands of foreign nationals who have joined the fighting in Syria. These foreigners have now been harnessed by the terror group to form cells and mount attacks globally.

Naim’s network is reported to be organizing for attacks in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. That should be a cause for concern for our security establishment.

We know that several small factions of rebel movements in Mindanao have recently pledged allegiance to ISIS. We can only hope our security personnel are on the ball.

Terror tactics employed by ISIS-linked groups makes this fanatical movement a challenge for law enforcers. The ISIS relies on small cells independently organized and linked together using social media. In an increasing number of cases, the terror network relied on “lone wolves” – individuals radicalized on their own and volunteering their lives to inflict terror in the name of the ISIS.

Tracking down independently operating terrorist cells can be exasperating. Add to this the inclination of ISIS-linked cells to perform acts of extreme brutality against the most vulnerable targets. In ISIS-occupied Syria, the militants have taken to executing children to enforce obedience.

This curse requires extreme relentlessness on the part of governments.


If terrorism is a curse on civilization, drugs have become an epidemic that threatens entire communities.

We know the statistics. These numbers grew from bad to worse the past few years.

In Metro Manila, 92.1 percent of the 1,706 barangays are considered drug infested. In Central Visayas, the number of drug-infested barangays went up to 50 percent.

The Philippine Drug Enforcement Administration (PDEA) now tells us that 50 percent of the 94,320 inmates in our prisons are there for drug-related offenses. As the trade in illegal drugs booms, our jails will be even more congested. Recent arrests suggest that many inmates continue trading drugs from jail.

The thing about illegal drug use is that they abet other crimes. Robberies, homicides and rapes have been committed by people under the influence of drugs. Despite all efforts, the problem just seems to grow.

One presidential aspirant has put suppressing illegal drug use at the top of his agenda. He seems confident harping on this theme will propel him to the top.

In a political rally in Cebu this week, Rodrigo Duterte anchored his platform on the suppression of illegal drug use. He promised to wage a round-the-clock war on the drug syndicates and even proposed public hangings for drug offenders.

Duterte unveiled a package of policies for dealing with the drug problem. He wants to raise police salaries to P75,000 to improve morale. He wants special courts to try drug-related offenses to speed up conviction. He wants bank secrecy lifted for suspected drug lords. He pushed for the Freedom of Information Act and the modernization of our crime-fighting capabilities.

Duterte and his running-mate Alan Cayetano are obviously positioning as the peace-and-order champions in this presidential race. “We will reclaim our streets,” says the Davao Mayor, “from the drug lords and criminals who have made them unsafe.”

To be sure, Duterte has the personality and track record to claim to be the peace-and-order candidate. He brought peace to Davao’s streets. He takes such pride in the years he invested transforming what was once a disorderly city into one of the safest anywhere that he snapped back at rival Mar Roxas when the latter questioned his accomplishments.

Currently in a statistical tie for third place with Roxas, Duterte draws support from constituencies exasperated by the worsening crime situation. Those constituencies are attracted to the tough-talking mayor who wants to return the death penalty and go after criminals hammer and tong.

It seems, however, that the number of people attracted to Duterte’s gung-ho approach to crime is nearly matched by the number of people fearful of police excesses in the effort to restore order to our streets. Due process might slow down the effort to root out criminality, but many fear the loosening of checks on law enforcers could produce worse outcomes than we already see.

At any rate, we should be thankful there is someone like Duterte at the main political stage to keep the suppression of criminality high in the national agenda.


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