Maglana: Vigilance isn’t spelled P-A-R-A-N-O-I-A

NOT to be cavalier but apparently it was Davao’s turn to deal with bomb threats earlier this week, after the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Cotabato, as well as Midsayap and other North Cotabato areas. Not that Davao City is new to the bombing and bomb threats specter.

On March 4, 2003 the Francisco Bangoy International Airport was bombed resulting in the deaths of 21 people and injuring 145 others. The following month, Sasa Wharf, the main seaport, was also targeted this time killing 16 and injuring 55. Merely hours after, three mosques were bombed and strafed. Then President Gloria Arroyo declared a state of lawlessness in the city. Going back further San Pedro Church, one of the city’s landmarks and sitting right across the seat of local government, was bombed twice, in April 1981 and in December 1993.

Of course we all know that Davao rose from all of that and became recognized for a number of “Mosts” -- among the Top 20 Most Liveable Cities from 1996 to 1999, Most Child-Friendly City in 1988, 1999 and 2012, Most Competitive City in 2002, Most Gender-Responsive LGU in 2004, and Hall of Famer in Literacy, among others. And if netizens are to be believed, the city is now among the world’s safest places, going by the survey. Of 349 places, Davao City is among the top 10; the only Philippine City to have that distinction. The premier city of Makati was only at 20th place.

While caution is urged about use of the survey results as there are difficulties with verification (Numbeo’s rankings are based on user input over the past two years), still there is something to be said about a city that has a high safety index and relatively low crime index.

For instance, 94 percent said it is safe to walk alone in daytime Davao while another 77 percent said the same for walking by one’s self at night. The top worry-causes in Davao according to Numbeo users are corruption and bribery, theft from cars, and house break-ins. Users rated “worries being subject to a physical attack because of your skin color, ethnic origin or religion” least.

If one goes by public order and safety issues reported in the media over the past year, the Numbeo survey results, at least as far as the reported causes of worries are concerned, are not very far off from reality. Excepting, of course, the big elephant in the city, er in the room: the extra-judicial killings.

But I digress, going back to the bombings and bomb threats, it is likely that the perceptions will change. Nothing affects one’s sense of physical security like the prospects of things suddenly going kaboom. But Davaoeños have not lost the fight to the still unknown destabilizers; we are not at their mercy. Our reactions and responses are still very much ours to control.

In situations of crisis people are often advised to be vigilant. Consistent with this, citizens are asked to report suspicious-looking persons and unattended things, pass on information, and avoid making unnecessary trips. These are important reminders. But by themselves they can lead to the situation that the destabilizers want to manipulate us into creating: a paranoid citizenry unable to trust anyone who looks different; who impulsively pass on unverified information; and are paralyzed in the safety of their own homes.

As a case in point, the days immediately following the bomb blasts at the SM Ecoland and Gaisano Mall movie houses, bombing rumors circulated in Davao City through SMS/texts and the social media pages. Allegedly, many citizens called in to make reports and inadvertently clogged the city’s 911’s system. The city’s public places like malls did not spawn the expected crowds.

On a very specific note, perhaps there is value to adopting a mass notification system for a city like Davao to reduce rumors and intensify clarity, which are important when the population is gripped by uncertainty and anxiety. People should know where not to go, for instance. Perhaps a 911-based SMS scheme can be arranged coupled with pronouncements on dedicated mass media channels.

But going back, vigilance is important but it cannot be the only characteristic of our response. We need to ensure our readiness and increase our resilience.

The City Government’s readiness in the face of emergencies cannot take the place of our own readiness -- citizens who are prepared at different levels: in our homes, communities, schools and workplaces. As a example, citizens who will not irresponsibly pass on SMS messages about news of bombings and bomb threats but who will use prearranged channels to verify the safety of their family, friends and community.

And of course there’s resilience. If and when emergencies happen, and they will, that should not be the end of us and our aspirations. Rather, let us count on our abilities to build back, and build back better: a more inclusive, stable, sustainable, and progressive Davao.

That might sound a bit casual in the telling but think back to the events of 1981, 1993 and 2003. Imagine what Davao would be like now, had we closed ourselves up because of paranoia.

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