DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 02 July) – Please veto the Anti-Terrorism bill, Mr. President, the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) Parliament appealed on Thursday.
The Parliament passed a resolution “respectfully appealing” to President Rodrigo Duterte to veto the Anti-Terrorism Bill which is awaiting his signature to become law, “to provide Congress the opportunity to review and address the issues of vagueness, overbreadth and other concerns.”
Resolution 239, as amended, was adopted at 6:02 p.m. without objection.
From the original 12 proponents, the Parliament also approved that all members be named as authors of the resolution. The 80-member BTA is the governing body during the transition period in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) until June 30, 2022.
The BTA members are appointed by the President, in accordance with the Organic Law for the BARMM, a product of the peace negotiations between government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Filed on June 5, Resolution 239 expressed “grave concern” over the passage of the bill but in Thursday’s special session, it was amended to read a “resolution respectfully appealing to His Excellency, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte to veto SB 1083 and HB 6875 or the (proposed) Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 to provide Congress the opportunity to review and address the issues of vagueness, overbreadth and other concerns.”
Bangsamoro Member of Parliament (MP) and Chief Minister Ahod “Al Haj Muraj” Ebrahim sent the Parliament a letter on June 22, stating his position on the issue and calling on the President to “exercise his veto power vis-à-vis the Anti-Terrorism Bill,” noting that “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.”
Ebrahim, chair of the MILF since 2003, said they condemn terrorism and have worked consistently to fight it but as the Chief Minister of the Bangsamoro “I cannot help but be alarmed by the language and foreseeable consequences of the proposed Anti-Terrorism Bill,” noting that it “stems from the long history of persecution, human rights violations, and discrimination suffered by the Bangsamoro.”
“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,” Ebrahim added.
He cited three major concerns: 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.
He expressed fear that when the Anti-Terrorism bill is passed into law, “among the hardest hit …. would be the Bangsamoro” and that 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 and abuse.”
Representatives of the Bangsamoro People
In the Parliament’s session livestreamed from Cotabato City, MP Omar Sema, a lawyer and son of former Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) chair Muslimin Sema, proposed to amend the resolution calling on the President to veto the bill so he could return it to Congress, so Congress can consider the concerns raised by the Bangsamoro officials and other groups, among them the issues of alleged unconstitutionality, vagueness and overbreadth of the provisions.
One MP asked that the Sema’s proposed title be amended to add “respectfully” while another suggested they use “appealing” instead of “calling,” and still another asked that the word “unconstitutionality” be deleted from the title as it seems like they are preempting judgment on the bill.
In accepting Sema’s proposed amendment, MP Amir Mawallil, one of the original proponents of the resolution, said, “With all of my heart, I accept the proposed amendment of MP Omar Sema.”
Resolution 239 states that the BTA members represent the concerns of the Moros, especially in the conflict-affected population “who have fallen victim to terrorist attacks and human rights violations.”
The resolution said they support the national government’s initiative to strengthen the law to prevent, prohibit, counter and penalize terrorism but noted that an effective counter-terrorism law “must be evidence-based and intended to respond to the actual evil sought to be prevented or penalized with provisions that do not encroach on fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Constitution.”
It added that the proposed law must also “clearly establish conduct that is lawful from unlawful to avert any misinterpretation and arbitrary, and discriminatory enforcement in its implementation, giving individuals adequate notice of their legal obligations so that they can govern their behavior accordingly.”
It said what Congress passed not only contains provisions that could easily be questioned for constitutionality, overbreadth and vagueness “but also lacks adequate measures to ensure its insusceptibility to abuse and/or human rights violations.”
It cited the following provisions: sanctioning warrantless arrests outside of the limitations allowed by the Rules of court and allowing wire-tapping of private conversations/communications upon ex parte application before the Court of Appeal and without an opportunity for the “suspect” to prevent counter-veiling evidence at any stage of the proceedings; detention of suspects for 14 to 24 days without a valid commitment order from the courts, and unilateral designation of persons or groups “as terrorist” by the Anti-Terrorism Council, consisting of members appointed by the executive and lack of remedies to question such designation before the courts.
“Such provisions, once enacted, could be counterproductive as it could instill fear or compound resentment among our peoples,” it said.
When filed early this month, Resolution 239 was initiated by Member of Parliament (MP) and Minority Leader Laisa Maluhud but it mustered a mixed authorship of six majority and six minority members, with MP and Cabinet Ministers Mohagher Iqbal and Abdulraof Macacua among the authors from the majority.
The four other co-authors from the majority are MPs Eddie Alih, Muslimin Jakilan, Jamel Macaraya and Abdulmuhmin Mujahid while those from the minority aside from Alamia are Rasol Mitmug, Baintan Adil-Ampatuan, Rasul Ismael, Don Mustapha Loong and Mawallil.
Iqbal was chair of the MILF peace panel who signed a peace pact with the government — the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro — on March 27, 2014 after 17 years of negotiations. He is now Minister of Basic, Higher and Technical Education and co-chair with Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, in the Inter-Governmental Relations Body.
Macacua, now Minister of Environment and Executive Secretary, was Chief of Staff of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) who was then known by his nom de guerre, Sammy Gambar. Decommissioning of the BIAF’s firearms and combatants is ongoing, in accordance with the peace agreement and RA 11054, the Organic Law for the BARMM.
Alamia was former Executive Secretary of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, the BARMM’s predecessor, and was the first chair of the Regional Human Rights Commission. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)