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Forum on Terror Bill dissects repercussions on Filipinos

The University’s Committee on National Issues and Concerns held another session of Kapihan ng Malalayang Lasalyano (KAMALAYAN) on Facebook Live last June 11 to tackle the controversy surrounding House Bill No. 6875, or the  Anti-Terrorism Bill of 2020. 

Joined by civil society leaders, the online forum is one of a growing number of discussions on the Anti-Terrorism Bill as calls for it to be scrapped continued to grow louder. 

‘Peace is not order’

Amid the politically-charged atmosphere caused by the recent passing of the bill, Rafaela David, executive director for the Center for Youth Advocacy and Networking, highlighted the continued inequality under the law, citing how police officers implicated in the ongoing anti-drug campaign are simply reassigned to a different role instead of being properly punished. This, she explained, made the bill’s safeguard provisions doubtful. 

Furthermore, instead of fostering peace, David is convinced that the vindictive provisions of the bill has only engendered division, saying, “Ano ba ang ipinapangako ng anti-terror law—mas magiging mapayapa, hindi magiging magulo lalo na ngayon na mayroon tayong pandemic. Pero ang hinihingi ba niya ay peace o ang hinihingi niya ay order?”

(What does an anti-terror law promise—more peace and less disorder especially in this pandemic. But does it ask for peace or does it ask for order?)

“Peace is not order, magkaibang-magkaiba ito,” David asserted, saying that the “narrative of terrorism” is being used to “justify the policy that focuses on violence, arms, and militarization”—an act of responding to troubles with an iron fist rather than advocating peace. She furthered, “Nawawala na ang itsura mo bilang tao. Ikaw ay nagiging branded and identified by that stamp na ikaw ay terorista.”

(They are completely different. You would lose your identity as a human being; you would become branded by that stamp identifying you as a terrorist.)

David’s main worry lied in the unprecedented power that the bill would grant to the police and the military. “Kung ganito, habang wala pa ang Anti-Terrorism Bill, ang trato nila sa ating mamamayan, bakit nating kailangan palakihin pa lalo ang kanilang kapangyarihan, legitimizing [their authority] further?” she questioned. 

(If they already treat citizens unjustly even without the Anti-Terrorism Bill, why is there a need to expand their power further?)

Broadening the issue

For former DLSU College of Law Dean and Free Legal Assistance Group Chairman Atty. Chel Diokno, the COVID-19 pandemic served to underline existing troubles in the country—food insecurity, unemployment, freedom, and justice—that remain unresolved. He asserted that these should be the government’s priorities, “not the kinds of laws that would make an executive [branch] even more absolute.”

Diokno warned that the law will be used as a political tool to harass political candidates, as the bill no longer contains provisions that prevent its use during election campaigns.

Kabataan party-list Rep. Sarah Elago also affirmed that the government’s misplaced priorities has manifested in the lack of urgency given to bills focused on economic recovery and COVID-19 response. “Marami pa ang kailangan nating habulin—testing capacity, validation ng mga cases, classification ng mga cases ng COVID-19, compensation ng mga frontline workers, at ayuda ng ating mga kababayan dahil sa pagsasara ng maraming mga negosyo na pinagkukunan ng pinagkikitaan ng ating mga kababayan,” she said.

(There is still a lot that we have to attend totesting capacity, classification and validation of COVID-19 cases, compensation for frontline workers, and cash aid to support Filipinos who are affected by the closure of businesses providing a source of income for many of our countrymen.)

Actual enforcement of any anti-terror legislation remains a major shortfall, explained Elago, with reports of human rights abuses still prevalent even under the Human Security Act of 2007, the law that the Anti-Terrorism Bill intends to amend. Overcoming this shortfall requires structural reform based on a vastly strengthened justice system instead of heavier penalties, she added.

Forms of resistance

With the crackdown on peaceful dissent, David asserted that the challenge now lies in exploring other means of activism. “I think there are a lot of forms of resistance; studying and solidarity, at a time like this, can be a form of resistance as well,” she mentioned. 

Diokno underlined the power of public opinion, “If we can show this government that we are are one in opposing this law, they will find a way either to water it down or get it out of the way,” furthering that using “a lot of political pressure and public opinion” against the bill would be helpful once the battle moves to the courts.

“After all, our courts are made of judges, and they are people too. They are sensitive to what’s happening outside and what the people think,” he concluded.  

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