(Statement of Ahod “Al Haj Murad” Balawag Ebrahim, Member of Parliament and Chief Minister of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, on the Anti-Terrorism Bill. This ‘position statement’ was sent to the Speaker of the Bangsamoro Parliament on 22 June 2020 as the Parliament was then deliberating on Resolution 239 expressing “grave concern” over the passage of the bill. The Parliament passed the amended Resolution on 02 July 2020, with all members as author, “respectfully appealing” to President Rodrigo Duterte to veto the bill “to provide Congress the opportunity to review and address the issues of vagueness, overbreadth and other concerns”).
At the outset, let me state that we condemn terrorism and have worked consistently to fight it. Terrorism knows no face, religion, nationality, or boundaries. It brings nothing but death and destruction to our people.
As the Chief Minister of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, however, I cannot help but be alarmed by the language and foreseeable consequences of the proposed Anti-Terrorism Bill. This stems from the long history of persecution, human rights violations, and discrimination suffered by the Bangsamoro.
Our experience as a people has consistently shown that when agents of the state are given too much discretion, it often leads to abuses, which in the end undermines the credibility of the institutions of government. These abuses are demonstrated in the arrests and detention of people of Islamic faith, profiling of Muslim students by the PNP, illegal raids, bombardment of Muslim communities, and even guilt by mere association. It is an unfortunate reality for Muslims in the Philippines to be commonly tagged and profiled as terrorists.
The war on terror zeroed in on Mindanao and, particularly, on the Bangsamoro people. This we have actively witnessed in the all-out war against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in 2000, the declaration of a state of lawlessness in Basilan in 2001, a state of emergency in Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, and Cotabato in 2009, the declaration of martial law and suspension of the writ of habeas corpus in Maguindanao also in 2009, and another declaration of martial law in Mindanao following the Marawi siege in 2017.
As the leader of a political entity born out of the struggle against injustice and oppression, it is my moral duty to speak out in order to ensure the measures intended to address terrorism will not be used as a means to subvert the fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals, in general, and normalize abuse and discrimination against the Bangsamoro, in particular.
It is in that context that the following provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Bill raises alarm and concern for the Bangsamoro people:
- The overly vague definition of terrorism and penalizing various acts related thereto that not only violate the due process clause of the Constitution but also make easy targets of innocent individuals and make them vulnerable to human rights violations;
- The surveillance of suspects and interception and recording of communications, and detention without a judicial warrant of arrest for prolonged periods of detention that violate fundamental rights, including the right to privacy and the rights of the accused; and
- The power of the Anti-Terrorism Council to order an arrest and to designate persons, groups, organizations, or associations as terrorists which violate the separation of powers and again, the right to due process.
It is our fear that among the hardest hit once the Anti-Terrorism Bill passes into law would be the Bangsamoro. Once again, incidents of violations of human rights will be on the rise and the Bangsamoro people, easily labelled as terrorists would again be subject to discrimination anad abuse.
We, thus, call the President to exercise his veto power vis-à-vis the Anti-Terrorism Bill. While we agree that a policy framework needs to be enacted to fight the menace of terrorism, we feel that the fundamental guarantees of liberty and the institutions of democracy must be protected. We can do better.
Ahod B. Ebrahim