DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/ 07 August) – A B’laan leader opposing a huge mining project in South Cotabato, Moro leaders from Marawi City and Lumad teachers joined other Indigenous Peoples nationwide in asking the Supreme Court to declare RA 11479 or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 as unconstitutional, claiming “it is, in fact, Martial Law in all but name.”
In a statement, the 15 petitioners — nine of them from Mindanao — and their lawyers led by Tony La Vina and Mai Taqueban of Cagayan de Oro City, said the Anti-Terror Act “enshrines in law draconian measures inimical to the rule of law and democracy,” noting that its definition of terroristic acts is “broad and vague, opening itself up to grave abuse.”
The powers the law gives to the Anti-Terrorism Council, they said, “are extraordinary — and unconstitutional” and “unlocks a Pandora’s box of terrors more frightening than the terrorism it purports to quell.”
Citing “demonization of dissent,” the petitioners said government leaders “can mistake criticism as a lack of support, at best, and an attack on their authority, at worst” but “the authoritarian tendencies of this administration recall, but also supersede, the dark days of Martial Law. The Anti-Terror Law is, in fact, Martial Law in all but name.”
Nora Sukal, leader of a B’laan community that opposes the Tampakan Gold-Copper Project in South Cotabato, said she fears the law “will be used to silence indigenous leaders like me who oppose large-scale extractive projects that threaten to destroy water sources and small farmers’ livelihoods.”
Moro leader Samira Ali Gutoc of Marawi City, chair of AkoBakwit, said “the authoritarian tendencies of this government are now enshrined in law with the Anti-Terrorism Law.”
Gutoc, who ran for Senator in the 2019 polls, said the law will be a blow to the hard-won law creating the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) as it will “tragically alienate the Bangsamoro people just as peace and development are within our grasp.”
Since the anti-terror bill was passed on June 3 and signed into law on July 3, Moro groups have repeatedly said that in the history of anti-terror campaigns in the country, the Bangsamoro people have suffered the brunt of arbitrary arrests, harassments, detentions and even death.
The latest petition filed to junk the Anti-Terror Law is the 26th nationwide and the fourth with petitioners from Mindanao.
The first was filed on July 23 by Moro lawyers Algamar Latiph, Bantuas Lucman, Musa Malayang, and Dalomilang Parahiman. The second on August 3 by five Mindanawons — a Moro leader, a human rights worker and three journalists — and an organization catering to the education of Indigenous Peoples or Lumads, noting that “counter-terrorism with no regard for human rights cannot win the hearts and minds of the people against terrorism nor can it suppress violent extremism.”
The third petition was filed Tuesday by Anak Mindanao (AMIN) party-list, two Basilan-based Representatives to Congress, four Moro lawyers, an artist and an Imam.
Booc, a volunteer teacher of the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development, Inc. recalls how President Rodrigo Duterte “threatened to bomb Lumad schools” which serve Lumad communities and ensure the education of Lumad children. “The areas where we work have been militarized, displacing communities and forcing students and families to bakwit (evacuate). He said the law “can be weaponized to further allow these atrocities to happen.”
Sukal, Gutoc and Booc filed their petition with the Supreme Court on Friday, two days before the International Day for the World’s Indigenous Peoples.
Aside from Sukal and Booc, the other Lumad petitioners from Mindanao are Jumoring Bandilan Guaynon, chieftain of the Higaonon in Can-ayan, Malaybalay City; Jeany Rose L. Hayahay, Lumad community volunteer teacher of Save Our Schools Network; Lorena Bay-ao, chair of Sabokahan, who evacuated to Davao City from Talingod in Davao del Norte.
Aside from Gutoc, the other Moro leaders from Mindanao are the Sultan of Marawi, Abdul Hamidullah Atar; Drieza Lininding, chair of the Moro Consensus Group; and Amirah Ali Lidasan, chair of the Moro-Christian People’s Alliance.
The other petitioners are Joanna Cariño, co-chair of the SANDUGO Alliance of Moro and Indigenous Peoples for Self- Determination; Windel B. Bolinget, chair of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance and co-convenor of Katribu; Beverly Longid, international solidarity officer of Katribu; Aeta leader Teresa de la Cruz; Francisca Tolentino, national coordinator and spokesperson of Bai Indigenous Women’s Network in the Philippines, and Judith Pamela Pasimio, National Coordinator of LILAK/Purple Action for Indigenous Women’s Rights Inc.,
The petitioners said RA 11479’s definition of terrorism “casts a wide net that only makes it prone to abuse.”
“Translated into its inevitable pernicious effects, only those mass actions, rallies and pickets supporting or friendly to the government would be permitted while critical dissenters would be subdued, justified under RA 11479’s wide but tenuous terms,” the petition said.
In their statement, the petitioners said that under the Anti-Terror Law, “it would seem that a terrorist is no one but the enemy, the Other. Those who do not toe the government line. Those who voice out legitimate concerns over the management of natural resources. Those who oppose human rights violations. Those who fight for Constitutionally protected rights. Those whose vision of development factors in the effect of present actions on future needs.”
“These are not unfounded fears,” they said, adding that even before the passage of an anti-terror law, activism has been vilified and opposition interpreted as subversion .
The statement noted that pluralism is the hallmark of democracy and the rule of law the linchpin for its functioning.
“The ATL dangerously synthesizes power and unmoors it from the checks and balances necessary for an entity entrusted with a monopoly of violence. Power has the tendency to consolidate; without limits it will transmute into a monolith that is unable to recognize, respect, and respond to the legitimate demands of people, especially the poor and oppressed,” they said.
Other Mindanawons who went to the Supreme Court to question the constitutionality of the Anti-Terrorism Act are retired Senior Justice Antonio Carpio, who hails from Davao City; and Bayan Muna Reps. Carlos Isagani Zarate of Davao and General Santos cities and Eufemia Cullamat of Surigao del Sur. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)