This has been the question nagging me for days now as I follow the story of an anti-terror expert who ran an experiment of bringing explosive materials and who passed through the security personnel of an airline carrier and two major airports in the country, airports that had, in the past five years, survived bombing attacks from “terrorists.”
The authorities, from airport security to Davao City officials to Malacañang, are after the head of Samson Macariola, the anti-terror expert who showed to a journalist his feat of testing the security measures of the airline and the Manila and Davao airports by carrying real explosives and assembling them inside the airplane.
According to media reports, the authorities who are after him are the same people who congratulated his feat days before his experiment got a lot of flak from airport security officials and scared airplane commuters and the public.
One day, it was reported that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo congratulated the anti-terror expert, the next day Malacañang promised to press charges against him. One time it was also reported that his security test was issued by higher authorities, the next day everyone was disowning Macariola’s services and affiliation.
Leafing through the pages of newspapers, I am reminded of an incident in May 2003, about an American by the name of Michael Meiring who accidentally set off an explosion in his room at the Evergreen hotel in Davao City.
According to media reports, Meiring was mysteriously “whisked away” by men believed to be agents of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation at the hospital where he was admitted. He was boarded onto a helicopter and nothing was heard from him again.
The incident angered Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and demanded that the officials who took Meiring should bring him back to the country. Questions were raised as to how an American citizen came in possession of explosives and toyed with it. In Meiring’s room, several IDs were found; there were suspicions that he was no average American but a CIA or FBI agent posing as a tourist.
How was he able to bring all those bombs inside the hotel, let alone acquire or maybe transport these explosives into Davao City?
The security-breach incident reinforces our suspicions that security experts, which might come from those institutions that have the capacity to own in their barracks C4 bombs and other sophisticated bombing materials, are the ones who have the ability to pass through tight security measures of airports and airplanes.
Airport officials are not the only ones angered by the Macariola affair. My fellow Moro brothers – they who have been accused, arrested, paraded in public as terrorists and detained only to be released months or years later for lack of evidence – are also upset.
I remember the late Montasir Sudang, a Moro farmer who died after a bomb exploded at the Davao City airport on March 4, 2003. He was accused of being the bomber — a suicide bomber — when his only fault was that he was at the airport waiting for his relative coming from abroad.
His relatives, Terso and Undungan Sudang, who have come to fetch his body and bury it in their hometown in North Cotabato, were also arrested as accomplices. They were released later for lack of evidence and with the help of Kabakan town mayor Luzviminda Tan who attests that those accused are residents of her municipality and are merely farmers.
Simple Moro folks are also the ones being blamed behind bombings of a different vessel and arrested at seaports. Just last week, three Moro simple farmers were arrested by elements of the military at the Polloc Port in Parang, Maguindanao. The three were accused of bringing bomb explosives aboard the Superferry boat bound for Manila on Aug. 7, 2006.
They were already inside the boat, having passed through so many thorough security check and did not carry any baggage with them except their backpacks which contained their clothes. The only thing suspicious in their things is the three kilos of sticky rice (pulot) that was meant to be a pasalubong for relatives in Manila.
They were tortured into admitting that they were terrorist bombers, and paraded to the media two days after. Cases were filed against them, despite not being presented in front of the judge who signed for their arrest and imprisonment based on the made-up charges of the 603rd Brigade and CIDG.
They were released five days later for lack of evidence.
Three years ago, at the height of bombings in Davao, two Moro farmers and a woman were arrested at the Manila seaport. They had spent three days on a Superferry, which did not blow up. And yet, upon getting off the ship, the CIDG arrested them and paraded them as bombers.
Imagine the experience of these Moro farmers, imagine the tension that they underwent in the hands of their captors, their basic rights violated, their pleas of innocence ignored. They were already criminals, paraded in public, with explosive materials many believed as planted evidence placed in front of them.
Imagine how many months they have to endure inside prison cells, not understanding why they were arrested and detained — except the belief that they are Muslims, Moros and, as such, treated by the law differently.
Imagine how many months were wasted, being away from their family, the high costs of legal cases draining their meager money and possessions.
If the government is behind the “live test” made by the anti-terror expert, then President Arroyo and her host of anti-terror experts and officials are playing a very dangerous game. At the expense of keeping the airport security officials on their toes, the lives of those who were on board the plane that day hanged by a thread.
There are so many what ifs? But one thing is for sure — that this government will do everything just so they can justify their renewed anti-terror drive in light of the fifth year commemoration of the Sept. 11 attacks in the US.
As if the public is not terrorized enough, the government even drums up the tempo, scaring the public about terrorist bombers roaming in Mindanao and possible bombing of planes and the LRT in the few days before Sept. 11.
The public is thrown into paranoia. One is not sure if she or he is on board with an anti-terror expert that just got away from tight security measures of the air and seaports, and is testing his bombing explosives right inside the plane or ship.
As for the Moro people, expect more raids in our communities and arrests of our loved ones. More parades of terrorist bombers, when the real one who’s an expert in the art of bombing will soon be shaking the hands of President Arroyo and patted on the back by people who invariably point their fingers at Moros as culprits in terrorist bombings.
(Amirah Ali Lidasan is the national vice-chairperson of the Suara Bangsamoro Partylist Organization. She wrote about the Ampatuans and how they wield power in Maguindanao in her previous column for Davao Today. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)