WE add our voice to those of President Rodrigo Duterte, other government officials, and the Filipino people in expressing our deep condolences and solidarity with the family, friends and countrymen of German national Jurgen Gustav Kantner at his senseless and brutal murder at the hands of the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group.
Kantner, as far too many innocent victims before him, was savagely beheaded by the Abu Sayyaf after their demand for P30 million ransom was ignored by the government, months after he was kidnapped with his companion while sailing in the southern Philippines.
Reason and conscience dictate that we must support the President’s firm position that terrorist demands cannot be entertained. He was entirely correct when he explained that, despite the tragic outcome for which he offered a heartfelt apology, giving in to terrorist demands would only encourage more of the same from the Abu Sayyaf, and put more people at risk of suffering the same fate.
But that same reason and conscience remind us that there is no such thing as an acceptable loss when it comes to innocent human life. The government has a duty to protect all its citizens and law-abiding foreign visitors, and while we appreciate President Duterte’s candid admission that the government failed in the case of the unfortunate Mr. Kantner, we must join our voice to those calling on the government to redouble its efforts to end the Abu Sayyaf scourge.
Those efforts, however, must be holistic. Indeed, the military response the President has ordered is appropriate in the sense that the country cannot tolerate the presence of a lethally equipped band of criminals who seek to do harm to innocent people, and if they cannot be captured or compelled to surrender, they must be destroyed. But the military response must not aggravate the volatile situation that breeds extremism in the first place; it must be carefully targeted to avoid causing harm to civilians.
The government must also give its full support to those in the affected Muslim communities who speak for peace and reason, and who condemn the sort of extremism espoused by the Abu Sayyaf and similar groups.
To that end, the government should take the lead in making Muslims and non-Muslims alike in the Philippines feel as though they are part of one shared community. We are fortunate, in a way, that Filipinos are not inclined to the sort of intolerance that adversely affects communities in other parts of the world; despite our troubles, we do not see the senseless bigotry here that affects many Muslims in other countries. Provoking that sort of division in our larger national community is exactly what the Abu Sayyaf is trying to achieve, but it is a provocation we can resist easily, with proper leadership.
And as the President has already recognized, addressing the underlying conditions that allow extremism to flourish – extreme poverty, lack of opportunity, overlooked development – are critical to preventing the disease of extremism from spreading. In studies of terrorist recruits, social scientists have found that frustration and feelings of powerlessness drive many to the extremist camp, where they find a sense of belonging and purpose, no matter how twisted it may be. Giving them better options – communities where basic needs like water and electricity are not luxuries, where there are opportunities for education and gainful employment, where there is peace and security for families – is effective in erasing the appeal of extremism.
We are saddened by the death of Mr. Kantner, as well as those who suffered the same fate before him, because even though we understand that the rest of the world recognizes it is not the fault of the Filipino people but rather a small band of thugs, we must feel somehow that the sad incident reflects poorly on us all. We pride ourselves on being friendly and welcoming to all visitors, and are shamed when such a tragic death occurs. Erasing that stain should be enough to inspire us all to stand with our leaders and not only reject extremism and violence in all its forms, but lend our full support in eradicating it and preventing its return.