POSTSCRIPT / October 20, 2002 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Rash of violence can lay basis for draconian moves

THERE’S NO ESCAPE: Assuming we can, where do we run or hide to escape the violence exploding around us?

Do we still allow our children to go to school? Do we stop going to the malls and other public places unless extremely necessary? If we can afford only public transportation, how do we make sure we go to work and come home in one piece?

Which is safer: Metro Manila or the province? Do we now start to seriously consider emigrating? But, assuming we qualify as immigrants, what country is safer than the Philippines while offering ample opportunities for us and our children?

These are some of the collective thoughts of many people caught in the psychological net of sporadic explosions, some of them fatal, hitting scattered sites from Metro Manila to Zamboanga.

Those of us in the capital who have been detached by distance from the ugly blasts in far-away Zamboanga are suddenly jolted by explosions right here in our midst.

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GOAL IS TO SOW TERROR: In these local explosions, as it was also with that foreshock in Bali that claimed almost 190 lives, there were no individual targets. The rain of fire and shrapnel was meant primarily to instill terror, not to kill any specific person.

But why would anybody or any group want to sow terror in the country at this point? Authorities have not made up their minds on the possible motives, but here is a brainstorm:

+If Filipinos and their leaders are not yet sufficiently convinced to go all-out for the impending American invasion of Iraq, the explosions — if successfully linked to terrorists — might just push them to line up under the Stars and Stripes.

+If a group wants to highlight government failure to make people secure in their person, their abode, and places of work and recreation, an easy way to do it is to sow terror by exploding bombs in public places.

+If the usual anarchists want to ride with the wave of violence erupting from Bali to Zamboanga, their planting explosives in the nation’s capital could feed the growing disenchantment with the government.

+Such erosion of the people’s faith in the will and competence of government could raise the people’s dissatisfaction rating of the administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo — if Malacanang bungles counter-terrorism measures. The opposition would love that.

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STAGE SET FOR GMA: On the other hand, the harassed Arroyo administration could seize the moment and turn it into an opportunity for rallying the citizenry behind it and justifying stringent measures that would be rejected in normal times.

President Arroyo, who has styled herself as the Iron Lady of Asia, might be able to draw from the rash of explosions justification for some harsh measures against terrorism as well as against violence and criminality in general.

Heightened violence could help President Arroyo lay the basis for emergency impositions short of martial law, if such is contemplated.

Peace and order is a basic requirement for anything that the government wants to accomplish, be it economic development, political stability, environment protection, promotion of sports and the arts… anything, everything.

When sufficiently scared, people could be more disposed to accepting even draconian measures meant to stop the violence and create the climate conducive to productive enterprise.

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CURFEW IN MANILA: In Manila, we see no serious objections to the curfew that will be imposed on minors (17 years old and younger) from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. in all six districts. The ordinance, signed the other day by Mayor Lito Atienza, will take effect 30 days after its approval.

Although introduced in the city council long before the Zamboanga blasts, the curfew ordinance fits into the package of measures designed to minimize opportunities for terrorist acts and crime in general.

Minors who are with their parents or who carry exemptions from their barangay chairmen will not be covered. It is presumed that youthful individuals will have to carry identification showing their ages if they venture out at night.

We understand that similar curfew ordinances are being enforced in other places. We expect curfew rules to complement the recent decision to give back to city and town mayors supervision over the local police.

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HOMES VIOLATED: It is not just the peace and order situation, but also the economic downtrend that has sent many middle class families we know to study seriously the option of emigrating to some foreign land.

The feeling of insecurity of some friends started with the runaway lawlessness in the streets, and worsened by the upsurge in crimes against property in their immediate neighborhood.

They talk of having to wake up in the middle of the night to check telltale noise that sometimes reveal attempts at porch climbing or forcible entry into their abodes. Some of the would-be robbers even have the temerity to fight back when accosted by residents who come out unarmed and are obviously vulnerable to physical attack.

Thugs from nearby squatter areas make the rounds when darkness falls. Streets that used to be quiet are now littered with garbage and are used as garage and repair areas of jeepneys and delivery vans.

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CHAOS IN THE STREETS: In the streets, it is every man to himself. With courtesy and discipline forgotten and with traffic officers missing most of the time, drivers have to battle their way through the mob of vehicles fighting for every opening on the road.

When a speeding vehicle cuts into your path, almost grazing your fender, what do you do? You cannot chase him, get off your car and challenge the driver. Who do you turn to for help?

Upon reaching your destination, usually late, you park with fear and uncertainty. You return minutes later and think you are lucky to find your vehicle still there — only to discover that your side mirror and other accessories are missing. There is nothing you can do except probably to make an insurance claim.

When you get home, you are informed that your daughter just lost her cellphone to a snatcher. What do you do? There is nothing you can do, except to feign relief that she did not lose her life with her phone.

Are we that helpless? It seems we are. So what do we do?

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 20, 2002)

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