No tango in Belgium and lessons for the Philippines

was my Trade Tripper column in the 1-2 April 2016 issue of BusinessWorld:

Perhaps what’s really tragic about the recent slaughter in Brussels is the fleeting idea that it could have been avoided. That the Belgian police could have previously arrested one of the suicide bombers, that they were aware of the terrorism records of the other two. That there should have been no 35 deaths to mourn, and more than 300 injured to console. But that is, indubitably, all hindsight.

For the Philippines, blithely shuffling its way to being a terrorist hotbed, there are lessons shrieking to be learned. For one, it is the importance of having the determination to deny the demands of one group if such contradicts the fundamental values and principles of the country.

And, like Belgium, a significant factor is territory.

As discussed by Jeff Jacoby (“Why there are Muslim ghettos in Belgium, but not in the US”, March 2016), “Last November’s horrific slaughter in Paris was masterminded by a Belgian radical, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, and at least four of the men who carried out those attacks were from the Brussels district of Molenbeek.”

Indeed, “for Islamist imams and terrorist ringleaders, such neighborhoods -- heavily Muslim, densely populated, with high unemployment and crime rates -- have proved fertile territory for recruiting violent jihadists.”

“Molenbeek”, according to Feargus O’Sullivan (“How a Brussels Neighborhood Became a Breeding Ground for Terror”, November 2015), “may be a new name for the international media, but the inner-city neighborhood has been linked to a string of terror attacks dating back years.”

Put another way: radical Islam’s internal logic, which is to wage war against and eliminate a democratic way of life founded on individual freedoms, directs isolation for its adherents rather than opportunities for assimilation.

This should commonsensically lead us to questioning the propriety of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, of which last Easter was the second anniversary of its signing.

As this column kept pointing out: for two years now, with the tacit agreement of this government, we have in de facto existence another State carved out of a territory of the Philippines. And an entity that surely could pose serious security problems for the country.

Yes, as Jacoby is quick to clarify, it is true that “Muslim communities are not inherently predisposed to violence” and that there is a far larger -- and peaceful -- Muslim community in the United States.

But the US has been quite successful in assimilating not only Muslims but most other migrants into mainstream society. Again, Jacoby: “There are no Muslim ghettoes here like those in Molenbeek or the Paris suburbs, where authorities turn a blind eye to antisocial behavior and aggressive incitement by radicals preaching jihad.” Instead, US Muslims’ participation “in various everyday American activities -- from following local sports teams to watching entertainment TV -- are similar to those of the American public generally. Half of all Muslim immigrants display the US flag at home, in the office, or on their car.”

In short, political correctness (so far) has not undermined the equal application of the rule of law in the US.

And the traditional values (not the vices) exhibited by mainstream Americans have proven attractive enough for other migrants to generally feel welcome and join freely.

The difference in policy and attitude -- and hence, results -- between the US and the Philippines could not be more obvious. Our country bizarrely adopted a “historical baggage” mentality that resulted in a guilt-ridden, appeasement policy direction for the Philippines. This must stop.

Finally, we must re-visit the efficacy of our security apparatus.

Or, to be precise, we should stop the inane (and expensively futile) delusion of matching militarily whatever hostile State there may be and instead -- for now -- focus on eliminating threats of an internal or asymmetric nature.

We must set aside progressive political correctness, confidently assert our sovereignty, and better equip our intelligence services in securing our borders from smuggled goods or individuals. The government itself admitted that there are more than a million undocumented or illegal aliens freely lurking around the country.

We must also have an effective surveillance program on communities that potentially serve as breeding grounds or shelter for Islamic terrorists.

Such security measures are not only constitutionally proper. It is actually the constitutional duty of government to do so.

But inevitably and unfortunately, one suspects the capability of our intelligence services when the intelligence fund of the Office of the President (P500 million) is ridiculously far bigger than that of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (in 2015, somewhere around P21 million).

In fact, the OP’s intelligence fund is bigger even than of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (P270 million) or the Philippine National Police (a little over P300 million).

Why would the President need such humongous intelligence funds? Why does he even have intelligence funds? Can’t he rely on the information provided by intelligence professionals doing their lawful duty?

Because, ultimately, the lesson of Belgium is this: politics should never get in the way of combatting terror.