A MORO IN EXILE: The Anti-Terror Bill and why Muslims in the Philippines are afraid of it

For those who are wondering why ordinary poor Muslims are afraid of the Anti-Terror Bill (ATB), read on. If not interested, skip this post because it is lengthy.

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“Is this how the Philippines conducts its anti-terror campaign?”

This was the subject heading of a press release I issued on behalf of two Manila-based lawyers’ organizations in 2007 (see below). The victim or supposed “terrorist” was eventually ordered released by the prosecutor for lack of probable cause. The case did not even go to trial. But the victim still had to experience being unlawfully detained, kept incommunicado, and tortured to confess.

Kaharudin’s case is one of many —  of manufactured evidence, of innocents being set-up, of torture —  all in the name of waging an anti-terrorism campaign. It shows why the Muslim community here have apprehensions about the ATB. If the abuse perpetrated on Kaharudin and others are all too common even without an anti-terror law, imagine what would happen if the authorities are given more powers to decide on a person’s freedom, when mere “suspicion” and not even probable cause is enough to detain a person.

It will be open season on Moros.

Read the press release we issued more than ten years ago to get an idea of how the anti-terror campaign is waged here and why ordinary Moros are apprehensive about the ATB. Ask any Moro lawyer who intervened in terrorism cases (Alga, Raissa, Edil, Musa, etc) and they will tell you the modus of the authorities are very similar.

The case of Kaharudin and many others prompted me to ask myself whether authorities are really interested in going after terrorists? Or are they more interested in grabbing any convenient Moro patsy and then presenting him to the media and public as proof that they are doing something? In one case handled by another lawyer, the authorities were so confused about the identity of one person named in their intelligence that they decided to arrest two persons.

By the way, an idealistic and newly minted lawyer from the Ateneo helped me on this and was on it until the case was resolved, Ras Mitmug. Three female lawyers from UP also lent a hand, one of whom is now with the diplomatic corps, the other one at one time was with the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, and another one went to Mindanao to immerse herself in the work of NGOs.

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For follow up questions: Atty. Malang (0928-679-3200)

PRESS STATEMENT
AUGUST 7, 2007

NO SCOOP IS WORTH SENDING AN INNOCENT MAN TO JAIL

Once again, a member of the Muslim community was arrested without warrant. Once again, someone was subjected to physical abuse to force him to admit to a supposed terrorist plot. Once again, there is an attempt to hoodwink the public and to prostitute the judicial process through evidence that was not only unconstitutionally obtained but all indications point to its spurious nature. Once again, there is an attempt to earn media mileage points at the expense of protecting the public by going after those who are truly guilty. Once again, an excuse is being manufactured to have another escalation of hostilities in Mindanao .

Around two weeks ago, a poor man from a far-flung farming village in Maguindanao came to Metro Manila on board a ship in search of a way out of poverty. His name is Kaharudin Talib and like many others from Mindanao and other parts of the country, his route out of poverty is to land a menial job in the Middle East as an OFW. For this purpose, he obtained a passport and set a day to go to the recruitment agency.

But Kaharudin’s hope -– a hope which countless other poor people in this country share — suddenly vanished last Friday, August 3, 2007, WHEN HE HIMSELF VANISHED. On that day, he was picked up and arrested WITHOUT A WARRANT by joint elements of the Philippine National Police – Southern Police  District (PNP-SPD) and Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP). And for three straight days and nights, he was held incommunicado. Frantic families and neighbors sought the help of lawyers whose efforts to locate him were unsuccessful. The PNP-SPD denied that they have custody and instead pointed to the ISAFP. But the ISAFP also denied having custody over him and, as if playing a sort of SICK GAME only they can possibly find amusing, likewise pointed to their counterparts in the PNP-SPD as the ones with custody.

This, in itself, already indicates a sinister plan by the PNP and ISAFP.

But what is an even stronger indication of a sinister plan was what transpired the day following Kaharudin’s arrest. On Saturday afternoon (August 4, 2007), members of the PNP went to Kaharudin’s residence and AGAIN WITHOUT A WARRANT AND WITHOUT COORDINATING WITH BARANGAY OFFICIALS as they are required under the law searched his place for supposed bombing implements. The search was initially conducted in the presence of Kaharudin’s housemates. But when no evidence was found even after each nook and cranny was searched, THEY ORDERED EVERYONE TO STEP OUTSIDE THE HOUSE. Only after giving themselves moments to search the house without effective supervision and witnessing did the cops allow the residents to step inside. AND LO AND BEHOLD! It was only then that a bomb was “found”.

The other evidences are of equally spurious nature. Even disregarding the constitutional inadmissibility of the supposedly incriminating text messages, the nature of those messages proves their manufactured nature rather than the guilt of Kaharudin. Why would supposed terrorists send messages in plain Tagalog? Why not in his dialect? To make their incriminating nature more obvious for the media and the public? To make it easier to convince the public that this person is really a terrorist? Wouldn’t anyone engaged in a sinister crime at least try to hide their crime by sending instructions in coded messages? Who sent those messages? Even a stranger who has someone else’s number can easily send such an incriminating message if he wanted to produce an “evidence” against that person. And when were those messages sent? Before or after the arresting officers had already possession of it? Sadly, these questions cannot be resolved as of now because THE POLICE REFUSED TO ALLOW ANYONE BUT THEMSELVES TO SEE THOSE TEXT MESSAGES, a clear indication that it is of spurious nature.

These and many other sinister aspects surrounding Kaharudin’s arrest and the attempt to pin a crime on him are the reasons why we, members of several law groups, have taken an interest in this case. NOT ONLY ARE THE BASIC CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS OF A PERSON INVOLVED IN THIS CASE BUT THE SPURIOUS NATURE OF THE SUPPOSED “EVIDENCE” AGAINST HIM STRONGLY INDICATES HIS INNOCENCE.

But this case involves not just Kaharudin and his family and friends. The public themselves have an utmost interest in this case. The public has a right to be protected from heinous crimes like terrorism. But when law enforcement agencies insist on pinning an act of terrorism on a clearly innocent person, AREN’T THEY IN EFFECT LETTING THE TRUE CULPRITS GO FREE??? Is their need to show to the public concrete results in their counter-terrorism campaign so strong that they don’t mind apprehending innocent people and letting guilty ones free??? Do such conduct from law enforcement and security agencies lead to better protection of the public, or are they only exposing the public to more risks? In other words, do the PNP and ISAFP deserve commendation or condemnation for the arrest of Kaharudin.

We are aware that the PNP, through one member of the media, presented a supposed confession by Kaharudin. But:

WHEN YOU BEAT UP A PERSON, HOLD HIM INCOMMUNICADO FOR 3 DAYS AND NIGHTS, PREVENT HIS FAMILY AND LAWYER FROM SEEING HIM, AND WHILE IN AN ENCLOSED POLICE STATION SURROUNDED BY THE VERY SAME PEOPLE WHO MOST LIKELY MANHANDLED HIM, ASK HIM LEADING QUESTIONS WHEN BEING INTERVIEWED BY A SOLE MEMBER OF THE PRESS …IT WOULD BE A MIRACLE IF HE DOESN’T OWN UP TO ANY CRIME YOU ASCRIBE TO HIM, EVEN THAT OF ASSASINATING JOHN F. KENNEDY AND NINOY AQUINO!!!

Thus, we remind our friends in the media of their profession’s code of ethics. We urge them not to allow themselves to be used in the abuse of a person’s constitutional rights.

THERE IS A THIN LINE BETWEEN GETTING A SCOOP AND BEING MADE A PARTY TO A POLICE INTERROGATION AND ILLEGAL CONFESSION. NO SCOOP IS WORTH SENDING AN INNOCENT MAN TO JAIL.

ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM ADVOCATES OF LAW
BANGSAMORO LAWYERS NETWORK, INC.
MUSLIM LEGAL AID FOUNDATION, INC.

(Zainudin Malang is a lawyer from Mindanao who spent years on deployment in acute emergencies in East Africa and the Middle East. Before that, he was the founding head of a human rights and civilian protection organization in Mindanao and was one of the five members of the peace process monitoring body)

 

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