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How safe are our country’s ports?

How safe are our country’s ports, airports, and freeports?

“There are many ways to fight terrorism—but only one way to destroy it and that is to do so.”

This was the statement of Philippine Ambassador Teddy Locsin Jr. at the United Nation’s General Assembly Hall on the country’s support to the UN’s move to create Counter-Terrorism Office, last 27th of July this year.

The time has come when tracing the origin of terrorism, or defining the same is no longer material. We have to act, and act decisively; we have to confront it, we cannot negotiate with it.

In no uncertain terms, Ambassador Locsin Jr. stressed that “there can be no political accommodation with terrorism. We cannot buy safety from terrorism by yielding to any of its demands. We cannot live with terrorism because it will not let us live.”

Indeed, we should fight this scourge in the global arena, as well as within our shores. If it means standing shoulder to shoulder with friendly forces battling foreign invaders, or simply maintaining the status quo with peace-keeping forces in distant shores, we have to do it in order to wrestle with the tentacles of terror. It has now become unavoidable in achieving peace. A challenge to peace anywhere, is a threat to global peace everywhere.

We can no longer afford to be indifferent to any shades of terror, be it wrought upon us by foreign jihadist, or its local cell leaders; whether sporadically, or otherwise. Gone were those days when the carefree among us, would simply dismiss episodes of coup, of power grabs, or imminence thereof, as sudden attacks of patriotism. No, nowadays, a terrorist, by any shade, is a terrorist.

Our UN Ambassador rejects, even the suggestion that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s patriot.” Today’s breed of extremists are different that even the dumb would not mistake their smirks and smiles for anything but those of senseless murderers.

Let’s listen to Locsin Jr.: “No. The new terrorists have no patria, no country, and no cause other than a delight in inflicting torture and death to spread the terror of their name – and thereby instill a willing submission to more cruelty.

“It is perilous because it can be self-serving to define terrorism. It is as hard to arrive at a common definition of it as it is to define pornography: but we know it when we see it; we know it when we view what terrorists do – to the women and girls they rape and trade or murder after use; to the men and boys whose throats they slit or they burn or drown in cages; to those they fling from rooftops in boyish fun; and to the cities they take and hold until they themselves destroy them or which have to be destroyed to liberate them. In the destruction of cultural artifacts terrorism is the enemy of memory so that those who survive know only the terror of their name.

“This is an evil so pure that it must be countered with means that are sure: a global effort against terror on every front by every society; even those not yet threatened because they will be.”

Unfortunately, our ports and airports, our coasts in the north, as well as our unmanned islands in the southern backdoor, are wide open for any evil mind to sneak in their wares—both for fighting as well as for financing a terror plan.

As the on-going Senate investigation has shown, our country’s security screens cannot cope with the demands of the influx of good—legit or anti-social; neither our migration doorman adequately tooled on the current intricacies of identification. Yes, our main customs-immigration-quarantine-security (CIQS) layers are undoubtedly peppered with holes.

Not only is our Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) ill-equipped, it is also outnumbered when ranged against our coastlines—the 3rd longest coastlines in the world. Our PCG is the most challenged coast guard in the entire world.

It’s bad enough for our economy to be helpless against smuggling. But, worse, if not worst, when the unabated smuggling is not just for legit commodities but for anti-social goods as well—like terrorists hardware, or knock-off goods; or, pursuing trafficking in persons, or illegal drugs, and their couriers and mules—that have been known to have funded many unparalleled insanities of men.

And, we don’t need to talk about how easy it is to perpetrate coastal smuggling—it has been done in the past, and there is no doubt, it continues to flourish until these days amidst the porousness of our coast.

Our country’s freeports have indeed been free even to terrorists, as well as havens of their trade and businesses. Our casinos are hosts to trafficked workers under the nose of our regulators. Our major ports–ballyhooed as world-class—can only x-ray 16 percent of the country’s imported containers, leaving the 84 percent wild and free. Only God knows how many boxes stuffed with imponderables have been sneaked in and out of the country.

Our quarantine capabilities would be helpless to address these waywardness facilitated by current advances in technology; yes, inventions and applications that are not only available to state governments, but likewise, if not, easily accessible and more affordable to evil forces.

And, when the perpetrators, their agents, funders, or operators have entered our doors, and mingled with our people—some of them looking more Filipino than many Filipinos—our ill-equipped immigration agents will have a difficult time tracking where these malevolent intruders are holed out at the moment; what they are doing at any given time, no one knows; or, when and where they’re going to egress, no one can predict; and, we call our Republic safe?

Here is Locsin Jr. once more: “In May 2017 terrorists pledged to ISIS and backed by foreign fighters proclaimed their control of Marawi, the capital and largest city of Lanao del Sur in Mindanao in the Philippines with a population of 200,000. They had long before entrenched and fortified themselves in the community.

“We did not see it coming because we are a democracy pledged to diversity. The presence of foreign terrorist fighters spoke to the transnational nature of the takeover. While the international community is successfully closing doors to these terrorist groups, new doors are opening up for them in other parts of the world.”

Are we among those who, wittingly or unwittingly, open up our doors for these terror groups?

Again, how safe are our country’s ports, airports, and freeports?

About Atty. Ramon Cuyco

Ramon G. Cuyco, Esq., CESO (inactive), former Regional Director, LTO; former DOTC Spokesperson; former Customs Director, former Head, Competitive Planning and Management Staff of the Bureau of Immigration. Currently, a Project-based Consultant at the Development Academy of the Philippines.

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