Konsyensya Dabaw joins other civil society groups in strongly opposing the Anti-Terrorism Bill or ATB (House Bill 6875 and Senate Bill 1803), which infringes on human rights and could be detrimental to the durability of peace in Mindanao.
The government’s claim that the ATB intends to protect life, liberty, and property from terrorism rings hollow because its unclear and far-reaching measures could end up depriving people of their rights.
Civil libertarians and human rights advocates warn of the broad authority that the ATB grants to the Anti-Terrorism Council. These include the powers to proscribe terrorist organizations, define the parameters of acts of terror, and cause the arrest and surveillance of persons suspected of terrorist acts. The threat of aggressive surveillance, particularly computer and network scrutiny, is heightening anxiety over digital security.
The internet’s potential as a source of reliable information and a platform for communication and participation during times of crisis could be dampened further.
Mindanawon apprehensions about the repressive and harmful practices that would be unleashed or heightened by the ATB are legitimate. After all, Mindanao is the theater in which the latest campaign against terror and rebellion is being played out. Marawi City, Butig, and Piagapo are but three examples of Mindanao communities destroyed by terrorist and counter-terrorist attacks alike. They have not been rebuilt years after the government declared victory over the terrorist groups.
There has been no comprehensive and transparent accounting of the two years and seven months that Proclamation 216, which put Mindanao under Martial Law, was in effect. Terrorism and rebellion were used as reasons for extending Martial Law three times after its declaration at the start of the Marawi crisis on May 23, 2017. Thus, Mindanawons and the rest of the country deserve to know what was accomplished under Proclamation 216 and what the gaps were that would warrant another anti-terrorism initiative.
We are concerned that the implementors of the ATB would target the “usual suspects” and would go after Moro communities, indigenous peoples, and red-tagged groups, thus threatening the stability of the Bangsamoro peace process and further diluting ongoing efforts for the resumption of the peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front.
The government has alienated and victimized an entire swath of Filipinos in its ill-advised and now suddenly silent war against drugs. It should not make more enemies of its people by arbitrarily categorizing and hounding them down as terrorists.
The House of Representative (HOR) took undue haste in passing HB 6875. The rush to ram the ATB through is not only unnecessary but also might be counter-productive. Perhaps an indication of just how hurried and unsatisfactory the deliberations were, 20 members of the HOR backed down on their support for HB 6875 days after it was voted on. More importantly, the fight against terrorism requires multistakeholder support and involvement. These will not be secured when people are kept in the dark, and their questions and concerns about sensitive legislation remain unacknowledged and unresolved.
The Anti-Terror Bill is being foisted on us at a time when our people are preoccupied with dealing with the ill effects of and uncertainties surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. Without room for discourse and dissent, citizens will tragically be caught between two false choices: the acts of terrorist groups or the terrors that the state unleashes when people’s rights are threatened and the risks of violent conflicts rekindled.
Filipino lives would be best protected if the government were to focus its energies and resources on building unities and leading nationwide efforts to meet needs and transform the country. Together we can overcome the current pandemic’s challenges and be better prepared to respond to, if not prevent, the next one.
In closing, we urge all fellow Filipinos to support these calls:
- Unite, protect, and defend human rights
- Convince lawmakers to withdraw their support to the ATB and legislate a better law
- Appeal to the President to scrap the ATB
- Petition the Supreme Court, if the President signs the ATB into law, to declare the Anti-Terror Act of 2020 unconstitutional.
June 12, 2020
Contact Person: Mags Z. Maglana; [email protected]