Panel speakers at the forum on the Human Security Act (RA 9372) at the University of the Philippines in Mindanao proposed a two-pronged approach to the situation: at the maximum, call for wider support for its repeal citing constitutionality and at the minimum, localized engagement with the military and the police to ensure protection of the people on the ground.
Five resource speakers from civil society organizations, including representatives from Moro and Lumad civil society organizations, defined the law based on their perspectives and outlined its implications to human rights protection and preservation and also to peace-building efforts and the peace process.
Lawyer Mary Ann Arnado, deputy executive director of the Initiatives for International Dialogue said the law’s "full blown operations against suspected enemies of the state the law runs very inconsistent with the advocacy to promote peace and peaceful means to approach the problem of the conflicts in Mindanao".
IID is one of the groups supporting peace-building efforts and ceasefire watch in Mindanao.
Arnado said the Human Security Act is actually promoting the preservation of the power of the government and the state, not the security of individual citizens.
She said the law is a failed attempt to adapt an approach to peace process from a national security to human security framework.
She said the law is patterned after the US' anti-terrorism policy in the post 911 New York bombings. She said with the Philippines following the US, America's enemies will become the country's enemies as well.
"The war on terrorism is brought to our backyard, pitting us to fight one another," she said. Arnado told participants of the forum that the conflict in Mindanao is an unfinished business of the country's colonial past. She said even before Bin Laden came to fame, the resistance movement in Mindanao was already strong. Now it is being placed in the frame of terrorism.
Arnado said the HSA made dominant the military approach to solve the Mindanao conflict, even if the national government vowed to uphold the primacy of the peace process.
"The law emboldens the military and the police even if the problem seeks beyond counter-terrorism approach. We need economic, socio-political action," she said.
Arnado said the law puts so much power to the Manila-based Anti Terrorism Council, which she compares to Burma's military junta, in determining who is a terrorist and what is terrorism.
The Alternative Law Groups slammed the law for being too vague and having broad definitions of terrorists and what constitutes terrorism.
"With the law's definition at the moment, they can even charge the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) for talking to communists and Moro rebel groups," she said.
Arnado cited the impact of the law to non-government organizations and other civil society organizations. She said it will derail gains in community level dialogues and interest in peace.
"As Mindanawons, would we trade or sacrifice our gains and interest for peace in Mindanao for this? For whose interest and for whose war? She asked.
Arnado warned against the pitfalls of implementing the law while the peace talks is on a volatile state.
"If authorities will go full swing (in implementing HSA). the peace process will be bumped off," she said.
She called on civil society to consolidate and take more pro-active stance involving a wider multi-sectoral participation.
"Let us act, let us not allow the situation to prevail. We should not agree to the government's profile of the enemy. We need to win by making more inroads to peace at the local level.
Arnado stressed the need to put up localized monitoring and quick response mechanisms as a preparation.
Myla Leguro of the Catholic Relief Services, who works with Lumad peoples’ organizations told the forum to be active in engaging the military and the police as a proactive stance to protect the people.
"Educate these sectors of your group's engagements consistent to the path to peace and invoke the need to respect the primacy of the peace process," she said at the open forum.
She said how to engage is still a challenge but civil society must chart a path that expands its lines of dialogue at the local level," she said.
Lawyer Raissa Jajurie, of the Alternative Law Groups stressed the need for alternative positions on the HSA. She said the call for its repeal is a maximum call, but at the minimum engagement should be pursued.
Arumanon Manobo tribal leader Apo Marshall Daul told MindaNews the bottomline of the action is the protection of the lives and rights of the people, so even if the law is not yet repealed, urgent action should be initiated. Daul is the lead convener of the Panaghoy sa Kalinaw, a consortium of Lumad organizations involved in peace building.
He said on the ground there must be enough foundation for peoples engagement in peaceful approach and dialogue.
Sammy Buat, Consortium of Bangsamoro Society – Davao chair, said there is a need to deepen understanding of the real issues. He said for the Moro, human security is that which helps them achieve self-determination, freedom, justice, just peace, among others.
"The HSA is the exact opposite of that," he said.