"Terrorists do not take vacations."
Last Friday, the President finally signed into law the controversial anti-terror bill (now R.A. 11479), surprising no one. This after all was a bill he had certified as urgent to Congress, dovetailing with his consistent televised warnings against terrorist threats even at the height of the lockdown.
Equally predictable was the subsequent flood of petitions questioning the constitutionality of the new law before the Supreme Court. This is how separation of powers is supposed to work. Nonetheless, I find it unlikely that even the noisiest judicial activist—and there’s hardly any of them now in the High Court—would try to overturn a law that was properly written by Congress as the representatives of the people’s will, at the behest of a very popular commander-in-chief.
The National Security Adviser has already moved to quell public misgivings by underscoring that the initial list of terrorists will start with names put forward by the United Nations, no friend of Duterte’s. Secretary Esperon described a disclosure and proscription process that heavily involves the courts, the human rights commission, and a Cabinet-level anti-terrorism council. There’s very little room in it for scoundrels and scalawags in uniform.
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The last is a point worth making in view of what some might say is the infelicitous timing of the new law, coming the same week that a team of four Army intelligence agents were gunned down by nine policemen detailed in the troubled provincial capitol of Jolo. If even soldiers can be victimized by such injustice—the critics argue—how much more innocent civilians?
This seems to me to be a glass that should be viewed as half-empty and not half-full. As a result of the killing of the soldiers, the Abu Sayyaf terrorists whom they were trying to track down were able to disappear from view. We can thus only hope that the nine policemen involved will be grilled as roughly as needed in order to find out who masterminded the whole conspiracy--whether it was someone higher up the chain of command, a criminal syndicate, or some influential local politico or religious leader.
This is precisely the point about modern-day terrorism: that its tentacles can reach high into the senior reaches of a police organization, or up to the most respected ranks of a community. Those tentacles are wielded by the most innocuous sources. And they will not spare even Army soldiers doing their job, let alone innocent civilians.
Other critics complain that there are other things more important to worry about: the virus, the anemic economy, Chinese incursions, and so much else. All these other concerns do operate to weaken us. But there remains one simple fact which those critics overlook: Terrorists do not take vacations.
It is precisely when their targets are weakest, most distracted, most divided, that they take the opportunity to strike. Unfortunately for us, one such moment is what we find ourselves in today.
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Over the weekend I ran into my old friend Atty. Ferdie Topacio, the loquacious lawyer who’s made it a personal crusade to run after the misdeeds and malfeasances of the late and unlamented PNoy administration.
With so much talk these days about the need for a vaccine against COVID-19, I asked Ferdie whatever happened to the case he’d filed years ago over the Dengvaxia vaccine. This was a monumental screw-up that cost the lives of children and inadvertently encouraged the recurrence even of non-dengue diseases (like polio) because it scared so many parents away from any kind of vaccination.
To my surprise, I learned that the cases he filed are still pending before the Ombudsman. In case the reader has forgotten the sad events of 2014 to 2017, here’s a summary of the “glaring anomalies and discrepancies” alleged:
• That PNoy himself met with representatives of Sanofi, the vaccine manufacturer, on at least two occasions abroad, in China and France;
• That his Health Secretary was personally following up the vaccine’s application for product registration with the FDA;
• That PNoy and several of his key Cabinet members, including Budget Secretary Abad and Executive Secretary Ochoa, misappropriated some Ps 3.5-Billion of public funds by allocating them for Dengvaxia, in contravention of the 2015 national budget and to the prejudice of over 800,000 Filipinos who were administered an “untested and unsafe” vaccine; and
• That these same senior officials were accordingly charged with plunder, malversation of public funds, and graft and corruption.
Some of these names are already greasy. For example, the former Budget Secretary is generally conceded to be the slippery mastermind behind the misappropriations earlier committed under PNoy’s unconstitutional DAP program. And for years, his tiny home province of Batanes enjoyed the highest share of national budget per capita compared to everyone else. We can only hope that the Ombudsman will move more quickly in holding such people to account.
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