Makati bus blast and the terror fallout

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At this point when the terror tone in the metro is raised several decibels up, contemplating on the angles and motives behind theJanuary 25 Makati bus blastbecomes a pointless exercise. Terror is the immediate and obvious consequence, whether the bus bombers intended it or not.

Even last year’s travel advisories by at least five countries on possible terror attacks in Metro Manila have been somehow legitimized due to the bus bombing. Right now, the President is receiving some flak for insisting that the travel advisories warned of potential mall attack and not bus blast, and thus have no basis.

Even a mere can of candies left at a waiting shed along Ayala Avenue sparked a bomb scare.

Recently, President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III has ordered the creation of a special unit from the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to catch prank callers of bomb scares.

In light of the bus blast’s social and political implications, dwelling on potential motives other than terrorism becomes futile. Come to think of it: if it was indeed a diversionary tactic or a destabilization plot, would the government’s response be different? Would the implications on the public be also different? Certainly not. Labeling the crime as a plot to destabilize the Aquino administration would not make a bus ride today less worrisome. Indeed, implications matter more than intentions at this point. Besides, the government should rather focus on the arrest of perpetrators rather than engross itself in a semantics game.

Quite noticeably, as the terror motive re-acquires reason and legitimacy, government officials recite again the terror script, posing a host of counter-terror measures to supposedly prevent another bus blast.

In response to the bombing incident, Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto suggested the mandatory registration of SIM cards of more than 80 million users nationwide. He said registering SIM cards will supposedly allow authorities to trace it if used in criminal activities.

This silly suggestion was echoed by the Commission on Information and Communications Technology (CICT) and the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), arguing that compulsory SIM card registration is being implemented in other countries against crimes.

But as pointed out by consumer group TXTPower, the scheme won’t deter criminals as they can easily fake identities in the registration of SIM cards. The group also said that based on pending measures in Congress, the measure “could only work if all the available and operational SIM cards are registered, with absolutely no exceptions or exemptions.”

It should be noted that the proposal hinges on the assumption that phone card listing can deter crimes. Yet how could mere SIM card registration deter terrorists from pursuing their activities if death hasn’t failed to stop them? Terrorists have already demonstrated their propensity to carry out attacks even by sacrificing their lives.

Moreso, such surveillance measure bears the patent of the national ID system consistently being pushed for the last decade but which remains contested by various groups for breach of privacy. In fact, SIM card registration bodes worse breach of privacy, since those controlling the surveillance system (assuming it has the necessary capacity) can monitor the whereabouts of everyone anytime.

After all, state security forces must first exorcise their sheer ineptitude and corrupt practices before embarking on more ambitious plans like mandatory SIM card registration to supposedly protect the people. We cannot just willingly submit our privacy to a government teeming with incompetent and unscrupulous officials.

Other new counter-terror efforts were pushed by the both local and national governments. Makati City Mayor Jejomar Erwin “Junjun” Binay Jr. asked the government to deploy PNP Special Action Force (SAF) and augmentation forces from the military to the city. Meanwhile, the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO)is pushing for the installation of a metro-wide closed circuit television (CCTV) camera network in an attempt to monitor criminal activities.

The Palace has also ordered the deployment of 300 bus marshals to inspect the 7,000 buses plying Metro Manila’s thoroughfares.

Today, President Aquino announced that the government will tap security guards, barangay tanods and other organizations as “force multiplers” against terrorists.

Sounds impressive for a government occasionally criticized by the noisy minority for doing nothing? The standing pretext of US-dictated war on terror, however, hints that all these efforts are articulations of Aquino’s counter-insurgency policy Oplan Bayanihan, which stresses “multi-stakeholder approach” and intensified surveillance. It just happened that the bus blast has provided the government a fine justification to push this menu of counter-terror measures.

So what’s wrong with Oplan Bayanihan? Its targets and objectives are pretty much the same as that of Arroyo’s bloody “Oplan Bantay Laya.” Under its framework, progressive students, trade unionists, peasants, priests and even human rights workers are presumed to be linked with the communist movement and thus labeled as terrorists.

At the end of the day, state security forces might be the actually missing real terrorists even with all these counter-terror measures put up, unless the government junks its flawed counter-terror framework.


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