Dangerous
FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - July 13, 2019 - 12:00am

President Duterte warned the nation faces dangerous times ahead. He gave us no details.

We will likely have to wait for the SONA to get a clearer sense of what the President warns about. We trust he has access to information ordinary citizens do not have.

We know he relishes reading intelligence reports. The other day, he asked for the resignation of 64 officials of the Bureau of Customs based on reports submitted by military and police intelligence gathering groups.

 The nation faces many threats. Our territorial claims are under pressure from more powerful claimant countries. Climate change has brought about severe weather conditions that threaten public safety and take large tolls on our agriculture. Currently, we are enduring a “mild” El Nino phenomenon that caused our main dams to dry up.

The President, in issuing warnings about dangerous times ahead, seems to be principally concerned about the possibility of mass casualty terror attacks.

A few days before he issued his warning, security officials confirmed a Filipino suicide bomber was involved in the deadly attack on a military camp in Sulu the week before. This is the first time a Filipino figured in a suicide bombing. In previous instances, foreigners carried out such attacks.

This could be a precursor of things to come.

With the ISIS driven out their enclaves in the Middle East, remnants of this brutal terror network will try to subsist elsewhere. This sort of terrorist movement does not need defended territory to thrive. It is a movement that inhabits the minds of their followers.

Armed factions who had pledged allegiance to the ISIS are responsible for the bloody attack on Marawi City. While the terrorists lost a thousand fighters in the course of a five-month battle to hold on to the city, several other heavily armed factions have pledged allegiance to the international terror network. One of those factions is believed to be behind the most recent suicide bombing.

One of the lessons the terrorists might have learned from the Battle for Marawi is that it is costly and ultimately futile to try and hold on to territory against superior security forces. They can project their power by mounting mass casualty attacks and bringing the battle to the densely populated urban centers. They can mount a campaign of assassination to produce chaos.

 Obviously, the nightmare scenario for our security officials is the possibility of a de facto alliance between terrorist networks and international drug cartels. One brings brutality and the other a limitless supply of money to the unholy alliance. Those who cannot be converted might be bought.

Our armed forces have been relentless in applying military pressure on the remnant terrorist factions in Mindanao. The terrorists have now responded by resorting to suicide bombings.

To properly manage the danger posed by terrorist networks, our security forces need more modern equipment to enable more comprehensive surveillance. Acquiring such equipment will invite political controversy, especially from those who value human rights over defeating an unholy alliance of criminality and terrorism.

The choices will be hard ones.

Incompetence

On Monday, President Duterte is due to meet with 64 officials from the Bureau of Customs (BOC). On the basis of intelligence reports, he asked these officials to either resign their posts or face charges. This should be the biggest purge ever of the corruption prone agency.

It is bad enough that the agency is prone to corruption. It is worse that it is also ridden with incompetence.

A few days ago, both the BOC and the PDEA admitted they lied regarding the P1 billion worth of shabu seized in Malabon last May.

That shipment was auctioned off when no one claimed it at the port. A company based in Malabon won the bid for the shipment misleadingly labeled as “tapioca.” When the buyer opened the cargo, he was surprised it contained illegal drugs. It was the buyer who informed PDEA of the shipment, leading to its seizure.

For weeks, both the BOC and the PDEA maintained the shipment was a “controlled release” to enable them to trace the real importers of the banned cargo. They claimed they knew about the illegal drugs all along. Those were statements made to conceal the incredible incompetence that marked the release of this shipment.

In the end, the lie could not hold. Challenged by Sen. Ping Lacson, the two agencies had to admit eventually that the dangerous cargo did slip undetected through their watch and reached the open market. Fortunately, the buyer of the auctioned cargo reported its real contents to the PDEA – or else, P1 billion worth of shabu would have disappeared in the open market.

Lacson challenged the BOC-PDEA story by invoking the law that says under no circumstance should illegal goods be sold at auction. On that point, both the BOC and the PDEA had to eat their words.

It turns out that senior Customs officials had opposed passing off that lie as the agency’s official statement. The most vociferous among them was then BOC spokesperson Erastus Sandino Austria. He warned his boss that issuing a sham sting operation story was not only unethical but possibly criminal.

Customs commissioner Rey Guerrero ignored the objections. He went over Austria’s head and ordered his staff to release the story about the “controlled release” of the P1 billion shabu shipment. Now he reaps the bitter fruit of a bad decision.

Austria, who was then collector for the Manila International Container Terminal apart from being the BOC’s spokesman, was rewarded with a reassignment to a distant post.

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