Law of error and terror
Our experience during the three months of the community quarantine should have taught us about the perils that await should the anti-terrorism bill be signed into law. Fresh in our minds are the photos and footage of the fatal shooting of former soldier Winston Ragos by a gaggle of policemen. They fired at Ragos despite calls from bystanders that Ragos was mentally unstable and unarmed. An investigation by the NBI later found that aside from killing the former soldier, police also reportedly “planted” a gun in his sling bag.
Couple this with numerous reports of rough handling, manhandling, and threatening behavior by police, along with willful violations of their own rules on social distancing including a mañanita for a police general. And this was all for the relatively benign offense of breaking quarantine rules.
Imagine then if the suspect was accused of the far graver offense of terrorism, a buzzword that sends heebie-jeebies among law enforcers and their politician bosses. Leading lawyer Howard Calleja sounds out on what he sees as the danger posed by the pending law: “The separation of powers of government and the checks and balances are slowly being dismantled in the guise of public welfare and security. Through the anti-terrorism law, the President, with Congress, has paved the way for a legal framework that would allow the government to go against its own people. The anti-terrorism law effectively strengthens the powers of the executive by granting powers inherent in the judiciary, making the executive the judge, jury and executioner. This law is used by the government to weaponize itself for state-sponsored repression that is a mockery of the rule of law. It is a law not against terrorists, but a law of error and terror.”
Here’s hoping more lawmakers join the bandwagon of colleagues taking back their votes in favor of this threatening law!
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It may seem like we were living in a bubble in the three months we were in lockdown. While poor families waited in anticipation, some in vain, for the promised “ayuda” from government, middle-class folk were simply grateful that utility bills briefly stopped coming. But with controls on movement loosened, the reins seemed to have been released, forcing many to meet obligations that had been merely put on hold.
Along with the utility bills that piled up on our doorsteps, or flooded our inboxes, have come notices about overdue accounts from banks. Already, so many have called for moratoriums on payments for bank loans or credit card debts, citing the slowdown in economic activity during the quarantine regime.
But, argue many bankers, while their institutions may be strong and resilient, not all are immune from the economic side effects of the pandemic. The financial impact will affect not just the banks, their owners/officers and employees, but most especially so their depositors, many of whom were counting on banks to preserve and protect and even grow their hard-earned savings.
Major accounting firm KPMG lists banks as one of the vulnerable sectors that took a blow from COVID-19, along with travel and tourism, and property and construction. From the onset of the pandemic controls, say bankers, they have collaborated with policymakers to enact what is known as “regulatory relief measures.” In line with the intent of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, banks have sought to lighten the burden on borrowers who are unable to pay by, among other steps, extending payment due dates to waiving fees. Loan requirements, they say, have also been eased to cope with the “new normal” and boost the economic recovery.
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Already, banks have reported hits on their bottom lines, and calls for write-offs of portions of loan payments, or for their restructuring for more than a year, have been aired. But should banks take on responsibilities that rightfully belong to businesses who were not prepared for the crisis?
Among the sectors to be badly affected if banks ease the pressure on delinquent borrowers are retirees, majority of whom are senior citizens burdened with health issues for whom money in the bank is a last-ditch resource.
A retiree’s savings represent about 50-70 years’ worth of effort, and if a one-year moratorium on loans is declared, the seniors’ savings and/or returns are put at risk. And what would happen to seniors who would lose their financial security if a bank should be forced to shut down?
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