DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/06 June) — It was raining that late afternoon on March 4 eleven years ago when an improvised explosive device exploded at the waiting shed in front of the old airport in Sasa. The terrific blast claimed 21 lives and injured about 150 persons including taxi drivers, itinerant vendors, porters, and family members waiting for their loved ones to deplane from a Cebu Pacific flight from Manila. We at the Ateneo lost a 19-year-old Mass Comm student to that deadly blast.
Airport authorities replaced the broken windows in the first and second floors of the building. However, for years after, the mangled waiting shed remained out front, a testament to a violent statement that nobody fully understood. I remember walking the pavement between the shed and the terminal building some years later. The airport had been moved to the more modern Francisco Bangoy International Airport. What remained were the abandoned building and the pockmarked street. It wasn’t hard to imagine the dead and the dying lying in blood, felled where they stood.
A month later, the terrorist group targeted the Sasa Wharf, placing a home-made bomb at a food stall by the ferry terminal. Seventeen people died and about 50 were injured. It left the residents with the notion that Davao City was no Switzerland. We can’t be neutral when we’re under attack.
And so Davao City entered the age of bag inspections and body search. We willingly gave up our right to privacy and suffered the unwelcome touch of unfamiliar fingers of security personnel. We took off our shoes and surrendered our backpacks, umbrellas, drinking water, galanicals, manicure sets, and even ballpens. Ah well, that did mean more job openings for lady guards, and never mind if they were butch.
Today, we take all these security precautions very much in stride. We blink at airports somewhere else where security personnel waive us through with nary a touch. We get uneasy when we are allowed to cart our stuff inside department stores.
It’s hard to unlearn behaviors designed to assure others we were no threat.
The Davao airport blast of 2003 gave birth to the Task Force Davao (TFD). Digong, who was mayor at that time, explains:
“The Task Force Davao is a child of violence.”
The TFD was constituted by then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo from a composite of security forces that had presence in Davao. The TFD was to provide the warm bodies that would help city hall secure the city from terrorist attack. Under the operational control of the Philippine Army’s 10th Infantry Division, the majority of the TFD personnel were on detached service from their mother units in the Army. It also had a K-9 unit and some other support teams from other branches of security services.
Digong confesses that he had been a lot closer to the former TFD commanders. A decade at it, however, and the TFD seems to have the procedures down to pat. It can function without the micro-management of the mayor, earning as it had in the last few years a very high approval rating from the populace. At the TFD turnover of command last June 4, he lauded the performance of outgoing commander Col. Casiano Monilla and expressed hope that Col. Macairog Alberto would similarly prove just as capable of managing the anti/counter terrorism measures in Davao City.
Listening in at the press conference after the turnover ceremony, I could not help but feel distinctly annoyed at the usual questions the mayor was getting. I think he was, too, as he asked for the next question. In the lull, I asked:
“Mr. Mayor, do you think there would ever be a time when this city would not need a Task Force Davao?”
Lord, it was after all the turnover of command, not a reluctant presidential election campaign sortie.
Without missing a beat, Digong comes back with an unequivocal “No. Until the same circumstances obtaining, the need remains.”
There will always be a TFD. Digong hopes that the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro sails through to its hoped for conclusion into law, but he also points out aspects about it that would have to stand up to questioning by the body politic.