Terrorism: A World Plague

Speech Delivered Before Student Forum, San Sebastian College

First, allow me to thank you for the invitation. I always find pleasure talking to students. It gives me opportunity to learn and refresh my own idealism. The youth is always a source of optimism and hope especially at this time when hope is just about what is left in our country. It is optimism that we badly need in this time of threat to peace and stability.

I cannot help but feel nostalgic about my own time as a young student.

Looking back, I do not remember having seriously entertained wearing the military or police uniform. When I was your age, I wanted to be a lawyer and had looked forward to become an NBI agent. 

I did not become a lawyer. But I became a law enforcer just the same. Not only that. I became the top law enforcer in the Philippine National Police.

No regrets. I hate even to imagine NBI Agent Ping Lacson working under Director Reynaldo Wycoco!

Even when I was the top law enforcer, I never imagined becoming a lawmaker. But I am now a lawmaker. It does not end here. Now that I am being seriously considered by the opposition to be their standard bearer for the 2003 presidential election, who knows what tomorrow may bring?

To make laws was the farthest from my mind, it is now becoming nearest to my heart. Being the original author of Senate Bill 1458, otherwise known as the Anti-Terrorism Bill that I filed on July 23, 2001 or two months before the September 11 terrorist attack in the United States proved my law enforcer’s instinct correct.

With my assigned topic, “Terrorism: A World Plague”, what immediately comes to my mind is your deep concern for the future that you face. Your fears are no different from mine. Our common objective, no doubt is to overcome these fears, then move forward in our quest for peace, order and stability.

But first, we must have a clear understanding of a valid cause for those fears – Terrorism.

Terrorism is no ordinary violence. As generally defined, terrorism is the deliberate use of violence against civilians for political or religious ends. It is never a personal thing. It is mostly to serve political ends. Whether it takes the form of bombings, shootings, hijackings, or assassinations, terrorism is never random, spontaneous nor blind.

Terrorist acts are often deliberately spectacular, designed to influence a wide audience beyond the victims of the violence itself.

Terrorism values no human rights and lives but human sacrifices, and respects no national boundaries. Hence, it is premeditated, never an impulsive act of rage. It is political, not criminal. It is aimed at civilians. And, it is carried out by sub-national groups-not by the army of a country.

Terrorism triumphs when the fear it wants to instill in the minds of the people has effectively rendered society and government helpless and practically subservient to its will, not just buildings are blown to pieces and civilians are massacred.

Terrorism triumphs when countries of the world become more divided than before, derailing the effort to strengthen the foundations of a peaceful world community.

Terrorism triumphs when world resources are diverted from the more important tasks of promoting better quality of life for the people of the world.

If war breaks out in Iraq, a worst-case scenario might just loom in the horizon – clash of civilizations: Islam against non-Islam. I don’t want to think about it. I would rather like to think there are just too many people who are more rational than less. I think every nation has learned enough damage control to prevent irreparable damage to the world.

But we must be prepared any way.

At least in the Philippines, I believe that the war against terrorism will be a war of police work, intelligence, and covert actions. This means work that is comprehensive, coherent and intense.

Such police work must cover the following areas:

Threat analysis; critical vulnerability assessment; vulnerability reduction; inter-agency cooperation and coordination; crisis management planning; and crisis management performance.

Operational activities must be both overt and covert leaving nothing to chance. In times of peace, there is no substitute to coordination. In times of war, it is all coordination.

Unknown to many people, we succeeded to foil terrorists attacks on land and air in 1995. Concrete evidence of an international connection between Muslim extremists in the Philippines and other Islamic organizations first began to emerge in January 1995. In fact, an apartment burned – Josefa Apartment along Quirino Avenue here in Manila. But something else was burning: explosives. Then, the police discovered something else: details of a sophisticated plan to carry out a series of high profile international operations to be conducted for the year 1995.

The attacks were to have included the following:

One, the assassination of His Holiness John Paul II during his 1995 visit to Manila.

Two, synchronized bombings of the US and Israel embassies in the Philippines and other Asian capitals, most notably Bangkok in Thailand.

Three, mid-air destruction of two United Airlines 747 jumbo jets over Hongkong’s Kai Tak Airport by exploding a nitroglycerin bomb hidden in the upper deck washrooms. This particular scheme was actually tested by bombing a PAL jet en route to Tokyo in December 1994, killing one Japanese national injuring ten other people.

The evidence of 1995 also shows the overall objective of turning our country into a major center of international terrorism. That early, the Abu Sayyaf was an active player.

The brains? No less than the mastermind of the first World Trade center bombing in 1993 – Ramzi Ahmed Yousef. He has since been serving time in a maximum security penitentiary in the US.

One of your un-raised questions is: will the Filipino Muslim community heed the terrorists’ call for a jihad? My answer is, our Muslim community here is a reasonable community. Save perhaps for the extremist Abu Sayyaf, which by this time has been effectively decimated, our Muslim brothers do not listen to the likes of Bin Laden. It only heeds the call for a peaceful and authentic political autonomy.

You have properly described world terrorism as a plague. The assumption is that their termination is not an impossibility.

As I told you earlier, I filed my first bill on terrorism in July 2001. Under this bill, we hope to meet the need for an adequate legal device that our law enforcement agencies can use. Enough safeguards are made to secure and protect the political and civil rights an liberties of the people.

In the United States, such legislation was easily passed. It addressed the requirement for electronic surveillance. In my bill, the same requirement is met with all the necessary safeguards.

One other aspect of my bill is the authorization of warrantless arrest. Again I want to assure you of the many safeguards to protect political and civil rights and liberties.

As to the treatment of evidence gathered, disclosure of the same can only be done upon prior written order of a competent court. This will avoid the stupidity of some intelligence officers to intimidate people by dangling even manufactured goods before media.

The creation of the Anti-Terrorism Council is necessary to provide coordination. This must be composed of the Secretary of Justice as Chairman, Secretary of National Defense, Secretary of Interior and Local Government, Supreme Court Administrator, and Director General of the National Security Council as members.

At the end of the day, we must be assured that the anti-terrorism policy we make contains the following doctrines:

One, we make no concessions to terrorists and no compromises.

Two, we bring terrorists to justice under our criminal justice system.

Three, we integrate counter-terrorism in our foreign policy.

As I look at all of you, I can sense the passion for doing something good for yourself and for your country. Keep it that way. You must develop the value of moral courage as the resident imperative of your life. Without it, you are lost.

Moral courage means that you learn to think for yourself and raise questions that matter and count. Without moral courage, there is no faith. Without moral courage, there is no self to assert.

Together, we must urge the government to consider the best option for the country and its people, first and foremost. And always, it must rally all available resources to secure our people and lay out contingency plans against the world plague that is terrorism.

This can hardly be done without the strong political will supported by a disciplined bureaucracy that can be trusted by the people.

Building a nation where the law rules supreme and productive activity gets its due premium is a prerequisite for fighting terrorism.

Together, by building such a nation we can overcome our fears.

In the same manner we can regain our national dignity and honor so tarnished by images of official corruption, unabated criminality and abject poverty.

Only then we can take pride in contributing our best on the effort to curb terrorism and counter its intended effects.

Always and ever, it must be serious, plodding work, no nonsense, ever. As for myself, I have always maintained a personal credo – “What is right must be kept right; what is wrong must be set right.”

And I do not intend to deviate from that.

Thank you very much. Good afternoon.