Scary words have come out of President Rodrigo Duterte’s mouth, but his pronouncement Tuesday that civil war might erupt in Mindanao if Christians take up arms against militants who style themselves after the global terror group Islamic State may give Filipinos the wrong idea—or the right one.
The terrorists, who laid siege in Marawi City nearly a month ago, were believed to be planning attacks in other areas of Mindanao. And indeed on Wednesday, at least two villages in Pigcawayan town in North Cotabato were attacked by armed men.
Already, however, airports and seaports nationwide are on alert status, supposedly to prevent the entry of foreign terrorists.
There are also reports that malls, public transport terminals and other crowded places could be the next target of terror groups. Months ago, separate blasts in Quiapo, Manila prompted talk of terrorism reaching the capital, even as police played these down as incidents arising out of personal conflict.
“Just because the fighting has stopped in Marawi doesn’t mean we are safe,” the President said.
“If this becomes a civil war, people will really kill each other. In Mindanao, there are a lot of Christians who also own high-powered guns. They have stockpile of arms. A communal war will be dangerous for everyone…”
Is the President correct to fan the flames of fear among the people and even invoke the Christian-Muslim rivalry to tell us how bad the situation could go?
Or is this, as some quarters suspect, a way of conditioning the minds of Filipinos so that the extension or expansion, maybe both, of martial law will be more acceptable?
We believe the answer lies in balance.
Good leaders tell it like it is—no embellishments, and no dismissiveness. We assume that as commander-in-chief, the President has full access to intelligence reports that should give him good basis for what he says.
Mr. Duterte should speak only out of respect for Filipinos who want to know exactly what is going on. Any other reason—giving them false reassurances on one hand, or painting the grimmest of scenarios on the other, will not do.
His depiction of Christians versus Muslims might also be sweeping, as we have read and heard many poignant stories from Marawi about how Muslims went out of their way—even risked their lives—to protect their Christian friends.
More importantly, while we expect our officials to give us an honest account of the conflict raging in Marawi and that which may erupt anywhere in the country anytime soon, we expect them even more to have a clear idea of what they would do with this knowledge. Only this can assure us that our government is able to protect us, and prevent terrorists from having their way.