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United against terror

Let me just express this at the onset: I condemn the cowardly terror attack against the good people of Davao City. An attack against Davaoeños is an attack against all Filipinos.

As I write this column, Davao City police officials have confirmed that 14 people have died and 67 were wounded in a late Friday evening blast in a popular night market in the city that just celebrated the election of one of its sons as President of the Republic.

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte has declared a “state of lawlessness” in the entire country and has asked the military and police to ensure the safety of Filipinos. This is an important first step. We need to keep calm and ensure that we prevent further attacks but we should not be cowed by fear.

The Filipino people have gone through a lot of cowardly attacks before and we have survived and we pulled through stronger than ever.

Initial reports said that the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) has claimed responsibility for the attacks in an apparent attempt to distract the efforts of Philippine security forces in hunting down the criminal group.

You will recall that early last week the President ordered the military to go “full force” against the ASG. He also ordered the deployment of an additional five battalions in the conflict area. This was in response to the death of 15 soldiers in a military offensive launched in Patikul, Sulu.

Later reports identified another fringe group supporting ASG as being responsible. Whichever group is responsible, it is important for the Philippine government to make sure that they face the full force of the law.

I urge all Filipinos to pray for the innocent victims of this senseless crime. Let us also pray for the families and loved ones they left behind. I can only imagine the pain they are going through right now. It is sad enough to lose a person you love, but to lose them in a vicious and cowardly attack is doubly painful.

I also urge President Duterte and the Philippine security forces to continue pursuing the bandits and to continue ensuring the safety of all Filipinos. I trust our President, who has said time and again that his job as President of the Republic is to protect the Filipino people.

I believe it is a reflection of the strength in leadership of President Duterte that he has decided to forego his first official trip in Brunei in order to be with his people in this time of crisis. I am sure our friends will understand.

Let us do our share. Be good citizens. Be cautious, but let us continue with our normal daily lives. Do not fall for unverified reports, rumors and speculations. A good citizen is a well-informed citizen. Let us report suspicious activities to law enforcement agencies. We need to be vigilant. This is not the time for political divisiveness.

The purpose of terror attacks is to sow terror. And the best response to terrorism is not to be terrorized. Terrorism can only be victorious if the people will submit and be petrified into inaction. Collectively, let us deny the terrorists the pleasure of accomplishing what they set out to do: make us scared.

What this attack has shown is that we need to double our efforts to fight the root of terrorism: poverty. We need to support the administration’s efforts in ensuring that peace and development take root in the conflict areas in Mindanao.

This terror act should not deter us from seeking peace with the Communist Party of the Philippines and the Muslim secessionists. On the contrary, part of our counter-terrorism strategy should be to make bandits like the ASG irrelevant by giving the people of Mindanao the peace and prosperity they deserve.

I have said this in the past but it is worth repeating here – no religion, no advocacy, no politics can ever justify the perpetration of terrorist acts such as the one in Davao City. I have no doubt in my mind that this attack will only strengthen our resolve and embolden our people into ensuring that we have a future that is peaceful, tolerant, and progressive.

More than ever, we need to show unity in the face of this terror attack and threats of future attacks. When there is an explosion people run in separate directions. That’s what the terrorists want. But as we have experienced in the past, we always come together to help each other pick up the pieces. That’s what makes Filipinos great.

(For comments/feedback email to :mbv.secretariat@gmail or visit www.mannyvikllar.com.ph.) (Senator Manny Villar)