Key voices vs terror bill
Mention the word “terrorist” and what comes to mind is the devastation of Marawi, a city in ruins after the Maute insurgents affiliated with the Islamic State laid siege to it in May 2017.
Basilan, Tawi-Tawi, and other parts of Mindanao have similarly been terrorized by the Abu Sayyaf group. Having lived with the chaos, violence, and instability that terrorists bring in their wake, Mindanao lawmakers should have been the first to support the anti-terrorism bill that now awaits the President’s signature to become law.
Instead, Basilan Rep. Mujiv Hataman, Lanao del Sur (2nd District) Rep. Yasser Alonto Balindong, and Anak Mindanao Rep. Amihilda Sangcopan voted against the bill and eloquently expressed their opposition to it.
Hataman, who comes from Basilan where the Abu Sayyaf mainly operates, expressed alarm over the bill’s expanded definition of “terrorist,” noting how Muslims have always been “the usual suspects.”
“This law is meant to give the state the power to tag whomever (it) pleases as a terrorist,” he warned.
And police have been known to abuse their authority, he added, citing the June 12 raid on a Muslim household in San Andres where agents of the Manila Police District allegedly stormed the house without identifying themselves and without any search warrant, and subsequently arrested two businessmen, also without a warrant.
Hataman lamented that the anti-terrorism bill had been prioritized over the much-delayed rehabilitation of Marawi, a dire situation that ironically could breed more radicalism and recruitment by extremist groups.
Balindong, for his part, protested that their “many proposals to fine-tune the bill to make it constitutional… were turned down.”
These Mindanao leaders are not the only ones opposing the draconian measure. In several open letters to the President after holding various fora last week, Mindanawons from different sectors appealed to Mr. Duterte to veto the bill and come up with a “version that is respectful of people’s rights and freedoms.”
“The best antidote to terrorism is building a humane Philippine society,” said the unity statement signed last June 12 by several groups mostly active in the peace process in Mindanao. In fact, they pointed out, the government has not bared any accounting of the martial law that was imposed on the whole of Mindanao for 31 months, and “what the gaps were that would warrant another anti-terrorism initiative.”
Another key sector rejecting the anti-terrorism bill is one that the President himself belongs to: the country’s corps of lawyers.
The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), the mandatory organization of Filipino lawyers, scored the legal and Constitutional infirmities in the proposed law — in particular the authority of the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC), to be composed of Cabinet members, to order the arrest of terror suspects which, under the 1987 Constitution, is a power exclusively given to the courts. IBP national president Domingo Cayosa said the creation of the ATC defeats the role of the judiciary to do “checks and balances” under the Constitution.
Likewise, the faculty of the University of the Philippines’ College of Law warned of the bill’s “clear and present danger to constitutionalism and the rule of law,” and that “As teachers of the law but more importantly as citizens of this country, we continue to look to our true north—the Constitution, which is the bedrock of our citizenship and the people, whom we serve.”
The Concerned Lawyers for Civil Liberties (CLCL), a reorganization of the legal consortium that opposed emergency powers during the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, meanwhile urged the judiciary “to step up and help protect the lives and cherished liberties of the Filipino people against the overbearing power of the Executive and the Legislative.”
Over 100 other international lawyers and lawyers’ groups have joined these voices urgently calling on the Duterte administration to reconsider the bill. In an open letter, the groups urged the junking of the proposed law which, they said, could “suppress and criminalize free speech and dissent, label and punish political enemies as terrorists, and unjustly deprive them of basic internationally recognized human rights and due process.”
In strikingly strong language, they declared that “it is abhorrent and immoral to pass this legislation while the global community is still suffering under the COVID-19 pandemic… and when there are other more urgent matters being faced by the Filipino people that its government should act swiftly to address.”
Consider: Mindanao leaders and people’s organizations that have had direct, harrowing experience with terrorism, and the country’s experts on the law, are both vehemently against the anti-terrorism bill. Can the red flags on this measure’s dangers get any redder than that?