I was on the phone with Col. Dickson Hermoso of the 6th Infantry Division stationed in Cotabato City right after the bomb went off. He said he just passed the blast site when he heard a loud explosion. When he looked back, he saw a huge black smoke rising. What first came to his mind was: No, it was not the trademark IED (improvised explosive device) usually used by “bombards,” a local name for those bomb experts of rebels or terrorists whose main technology uses mortar or howitzer cartridges for bomb making. The recent Cotabato bomb, which also triggered a fire in the buildings, could be made of dynamites or from ammonium nitrate mixed with fuel oil. It was a big bomb, no doubt. Not to mention that the bomb was latched to a Multicab left in the scene, a more expensive operation than leaving an old worn out, expendable “backpack” to explode.
LEVEL UP – Are we entering the next-level phase of terrorism using “car bombs”? We know that terrorists in the troubled areas in other parts of the world are good at this. And finding the real culprits are hard, unless some lucky breaks in the investigation take place – which is not usual as we know.
Interestingly, a series of explosions in various areas in the Cotabato area followed. Looks like the “bombard” group is now in business!
BREAK DOWN – But hold it folks! This could not have come from one single group as many may immediately conclude. Yes, the Muslim renegade groups “owned up” their bomb operations. But not all can be attributed to them. The fact is during times when law and order and normalcy break down and “hired hands” are available to do dirty jobs, many “free riders” will ride on the occasion. Meaning, those who have personal grudges can bomb away their own enemies to settle a score. Or politicians or businessmen or plain vengeance seekers who wish their opponents are gone to oblivion, can conveniently eliminate them and “charge it to the terrorists.”
ANGRY HOUSEWIVES – I remember at the height of the summary killings and “salvaging” in Davao in the early 1980s by NPA “Sparrows” there was a proliferation of threat letters ostensibly signed by NPA hitmen. I know several philandering husbands got threatening notes warning: “Leave your mistress o isang bala ka lang.” Signed “Commander X.” Of course, no doubt these were coming from angry housewives! Or a collection letter from hopeless creditors, sending demand letters signed by “Commander So and So.” Don’t be surprised but the tactic worked in many instances. Better than demand letters from lawyers!
MINDANAO SEIGE – I was not a bit surprised to hear some of my media colleagues in Manila who attended the Round-table Media Forum at Hotel Rembrandt in Quezon City a few days ago already having their own advance conclusions on who were behind the recent bombings. The series of incidents are hard to ignore. In the face, one newspaper headlined “MINDANAO UNDER SEIGE.” Although we in Mindanao are worried about this, it is not accurate to paint the whole island region as in trouble.
How the authorities will solve this is something we need to know fast. Chances are, until the next bomb explodes somewhere, we may not be able to get the bastards! With the many bombs already exploding within the last few days something must give!
The question is: why is the PNP, the AFP and the rest of those in government, INCLUDING THE CITIZENRY, appear helpless in the fact of all this? What should we, plain citizens, do to navigate this temporary atmosphere of fear and terror?
FOR COTABATO CITY – I have a few suggestions, if I may, guided by my past work facing similar past situations:
a. a dialogue or meeting be called to be attended by multi-sectoral groups in Cotabato City or its environs where citizens are given a chance to raise their anger, angst or disgust at the situation. Something concrete may evolve from there. Archbishop Orlando B. Quevedo, OMI can be the focal person here. Business groups, NGOs, etc. must all converge.
b. a quiet dialogue be called among groups or personalities who are key players or actors who can help ease up the situation. (Like the Guianis and Semas and the other political and influential families in the area.)
c. a meeting of the ceasefire committees or the Ad hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) of the government and the MILF be convened to tackle the situation;
d. the President, no less, should fly to and hold a Command Conference in Cotabato City to deal with the situation and receive and act on the inputs, if any from the multi sectoral group.
I am sure, there are already initiatives done along the lines of what I have outlined above. But I have not seen any these being relayed to the public. The citizens’ apprehensions must be allayed and eased.
But the undeniable fact must remain: WE CANNOT ALLOW THE BAD GUYS TO WIN. WE CANNOT ALLOW THE TERRORISTS TO DOMINATE OUR LIVES! Government cannot do it alone. Everyone must help!
(Lawyer Jesus G. Dureza was government peace panel chair in the negotiations with the MILF under the Arroyo administration from 2001 to 2003 and was later named Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (2005 to 2008). He heads Advocacy MindaNOW Foundation, Inc. and was recently named publisher of the Davao City-based Mindanao Times. This piece is from his syndicated column, Advocacy MindaNOW.)