WE were shocked and saddened to watch the unfolding story Monday night of the deadly bombing in the heart of Bangkok, which as of the latest reports yesterday had claimed the lives of at least 20 people and injured more than 100.
Although the individual’s identity had yet to be confirmed as of press time, reports from the Thai authorities and media on the scene told of a Filipino visitor being injured. The dead included vacationing Chinese citizens.
Because no group or person has claimed responsibility for the attack, which was apparently carried out with a bomb loaded in a motorcycle, speculation has run wild. Thailand has struggled with a small but stubborn and occasionally very deadly Muslim insurgency in its far southern region and is no stranger to other kinds of aggressive and sometimes violent political strife, but neither of those was obviously the culprit. All the Thai authorities would say – appropriately, however, as their investigation is just beginning – was that the attack in a popular tourist area was meant to sow fear and harm the economy.
That is a grim understatement; the Erawan Shrine – a shrine to the Hindu god Brahma – is a popular attraction for Thai and foreign visitors alike, and until Monday night felt like the safest part of the city, surrounded by shopping malls and upscale hotels. Anyone in Thailand who wishes to make a point by being disruptive knows this, which is why the area has often been the focal point of political demonstrations, but those rarely result in large-scale violence; terrorist attacks like that on Monday night are almost unheard of anywhere in Thailand, and especially not in Bangkok itself.
It should go without saying that the diplomatic and security officials of the Philippines are monitoring the situation closely, but given the Aquino Administration’s record of responding slowly to crises, we feel a reminder may be in order.
The attack in Bangkok has serious implications for the region, no matter what provoked it, and for the Philippines, there is the grave matter of first quickly confirming reports of the death of one of our fellow citizens and extending the proper assistance to his or her family. That apparently had not happened as of mid-morning Tuesday, which does not inspire confidence that the Aquino Administration’s crisis response processes have improved at all.
One-tenth of this country’s population already lives and works abroad, and Filipinos who have the means are spending more of their growing disposable incomes on travel; the implication that their government might not be able to help them in situations beyond their control – which to be fair to the government may be more a failure in communicating with the public than a failure to act – may make many would-be travelers think twice.
And if it turns out that the bombing in relatively secure Bangkok – Thailand is, after all, currently under military rule – is related to a wider movement such as the Islamic State, the security implications for the comparatively less-secure Philippines are dire, especially at a time when a decision regarding the fate of the proposed Bangsamoro region is being weighed, and local tensions are slowly building ahead of next year’s elections.
Even if the bombing is revealed to be a strictly internal matter for Thailand, the authorities were exactly right when they characterized it as an attack on the economy. The bombing could not have come at a worse time, not just for Thailand, but for the whole region, where the economic growth pace is becoming increasingly sensitive to shocks and beginning to falter.
A surprise terrorist attack that occurs in spite of efforts to maintain peace and security is a risk that cannot be completely avoided, it seems. Failure to be prepared for it, even though we hope it never happens, is inexcusable.