Ateneo de Davao University

Ateneo de Davao

Reflections on September 2 Davao City bombing

DABAWENYOS are indeed a strong “breed” of Filipinos. They can bounce back every after a calamity (manmade of natural) hits them.

Based on the records of City PNP, the bombing last September 2, 2016 at the Roxas night market, was actually the 7th bombing attack in the city.

According to the news, “a total of 73 people have been killed while 551 others have been injured in 8 major explosions in the city”. Last September 3, Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles led the memorial mass for the victims of the said bombing. I joined the mass together with my youngest son, Tahir Ishaq.

During the mass, son asked me, “Papa, why did the Roxas bombing happen?” I could not answer him directly. I just said to him, there are terrorists that want to harm us. He then asked me, “What is a terrorist?” I replied, “Anak, you are too young to know and learn about these things.”

After our short conversation, I asked myself, how do we explain to a child the meaning of terrorism? Or incidents like the bombings that hit almost all major cities in the world. How can we explain to a child the deaths of innocent civilians committed by terror groups? I guess the answer is not that easy to find. But we can begin by defining what terrorism is all about.

As early as 1970s, historians and political analysts tried to define the word terrorism. Walter Laqueur, Chairman of the Research Council of the Strategic and International Studies, Georgetown University, wrote two books entitled “Guerrilla” and “Terrorism”. Two books were first published in 1976, and Terrorism, 1977.

According to Laquer, historians will try to make sense of the behaviour of Western governments and the media in 1980s regarding terrorism. They will note that presidents and other leaders frequently referred to terrorism as one of the greatest dangers facing mankind. For days and weeks, television networks devoted most of their prime-time news to covering terrorist operations. Publicists referred as the cancer of the modern world, growing inexorably until it poisoned and engulfed the society on which it fed.”

These words discuss different levels where the word terrorism operates. We have the words like “Western governments”, “media”, “mankind”, and “society”. For me, they are all interconnected.

Laquer defined the word terrorism in this manner, “terrorism is an attempt to destabilize democratic societies and to show that their governments are impotent.”

He also said, “What is terrorism? It would be highly desirable if all discussions of terrorism, of its motives and inspiration, its specific character, its modes of operation and long-term consequences, were based on a clear, exact and comprehensive definition. Ideally, there should be agreement as to whether terrorism is violence in general or some particular form of violence; whether the emphasis should be on its political aims or its methods of combat or the extra-normal character of its strategy; whether its purposive, systematic character should be singled out or, on the contrary, its unpredictability and its symbolic aspect or perhaps the fact that so many its victims are innocents.”

Well, I cannot share this definition to my ten year old son. There is just too much information that he may not be able to understand them all.

I guess my background in law and anthropology will not work in explaining to a child why the Roxas night market happened. I decided to look for an expert opinion.

I read an article, Explaining Acts of Violence: Talking to Your Child about Terrorism, written by Dr. Mary Pulido. The article summarizes the way how to establish a healthy conversation to a child in explaining complex situations in our world today.

Dr. Pulido believes that sooner or later, parents will need to have a conversation with their child about devastating events like bombings and acts of terror. Parents should also know how to answer their child’s questions about terrorism. Her advice is simple. She recommends that in answering the questions, we have to bear in mind that we must not produce unnecessary anxiety to the child. However, we need to provide him/her enough information to satisfy his/her curiosity and concerns.

Below are some of her suggestions: “If your child asks “What is a terrorist?” you can tell them that a terrorist is someone who tries to hurt and scare people. They are trying to make people afraid. Terror is another word for being very scared. I would then add that there are not many terrorists in the world, but there are many good people in the world working hard to keep them safe.”

“If your child asks ‘Why did they do that?’ you can say, ‘The people who set off bombs and/or attacked people were terrorists. They were very angry and wanted to hurt people. They did this to scare people and to cause much harm and damage to the people who live/work there.'”

Dr. Pulido also suggested staying away from going into the details about the terrorist groups. It is important to assure the child that he/she is safe and not in danger.

As I reflect further of the incident that happened last September 2, I realized that terrorist attacks are scary because they make us feel out of control. I appreciated a lot the strong gesture of our city mayor in ensuring that we rise up after the incident. Our local officials, academes, and civil society organizations in Davao are united and they show that we are one people, one Dabawenyos.