STAR EDITORIAL: EXPLOITING WEAKNESSES

MANILA, NOVEMBER 22, 2003  (STAR) Of course President Arroyo has to say that she is stepping up her campaign against Jemaah Islamiyah, the Southeast Asian terrorist group that has been linked to Osama bin Ladenís al-Qaeda network. Her statement was issued amid reports that the Bureau of Immigration is hunting down about 30 suspected JI members in different parts of Mindanao.

The President, however, will have to back up her commitment with enough resources for her security officers, as well as innovative measures to cope with determined terrorists who are familiar with the ways of globalization and cyberspace.

JI members have managed to enter this country freely because of loose border controls that are taken for granted in a free society, but which must now be reviewed in the light of a deadly threat. Visa rules need to be tightened Ė thatís the obvious and relatively easy part. The tougher part is guarding the porous borders of an archipelago of 7,100 islands, where foreigners who look like locals can easily slip in with weapons and meet up with terrorist supporters. If intelligence reports are accurate, there has been a steady stream of JI and al-Qaeda militants conducting or undergoing training in camps controlled by the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Does the government have the resources to stop the entry of such people?

Together with tighter security measures, the government will have to make sure arrested terrorists are kept behind bars. The nation canít afford to have more jailbreaks especially from the headquarters of the Philippine National Police. Sure, Indonesian terrorist Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi and an Abu Sayyaf member were eventually shot dead by pursuing government troops. But it took several months from their dramatic escape from Camp Crame before the two were taken out. What has been done since al-Ghoziís death to reduce the chances of more jailbreaks? A new maximum security detention center has been built at Camp Crame.

That jailbreak, however, was largely due to human, not structural, failure. And human weakness is still there at all levels of law enforcement and national security, waiting to make a mockery of any presidential commitment to fight a vicious terrorist group.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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