COLUMNISTS – GET REAL
By: Solita Collas-Monsod
That the critics of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 range from far left to far right in the political spectrum is a red flag which should cause us to sit up and take notice.
The last time this unity of sentiment occurred, as far as I can recall, was during the protests against the Marcos dictatorship in 1983 onward. Left, center, and right marched shoulder to shoulder against this obscenity against the Filipino people. Since then, I have not marched with the left, nor have I agreed with their objectives. But today their objections deserve support.
What makes left and right (with a few exceptions) stand together? What is the Anti-Terrorism Act? Originating in the Senate, it was approved in toto by the House, thus removing the need for bicameral negotiations. It can be signed immediately by the President.If you have the desire to read the Act, you will find out that both critics and supporters have bases for their stands. Sen. Panfilo Lacson, for example, the main sponsor of the Senate bill, offers, as proof that it offers no danger, that several provisions were borrowed from the United States and Australia, that it used United Nations standards, that other countries (Thailand, Singapore) had longer detentions without warrant. All true.
Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año assures that the people have nothing to fear, that only the terrorists and their supporters should be afraid. He does not elaborate.Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana also assures us that the bill carries enough safeguards against abuses. And it does—reports to the Commission on Human Rights, torture is a no-no, custodial centers must keep logs of the detainees’ activities, right to a lawyer, right to visits from the family, etc. etc.
So why are we in a snit? Well, amid the UN standards and the beautiful language carrying safeguards, there are poison pills. The bill broadens the definition of terrorism—too much. And if one threatens, or incites, or conspires, or plans to incite other people to terrorize, one is punished (12 years’ imprisonment for threats and inciting, life imprisonment for planning or conspiring). What constitutes a threat or an incitement is not clearly specified. I guess it is up to the police or military to interpret. And we know how fast they charge people with “inciting to sedition.”
Then there is the warrantless arrest. People are arrested not by order of a court, but by order (written, to assure us), of the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC), which is tasked with implementing the Anti-Terrorism Act. The ATC is composed of the executive secretary, the national security adviser, secretaries of foreign affairs, defense, justice, finance, local government, information and communications technology, and the executive director of the Anti-Money Laundering Council. The secretariat is the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency. These executives, or their representatives, approve the detention of the “terrorists.”
And the detainees can be kept for up to 24 days before they bring up charges—with only the imprimatur of the ATC, not any judge.
In essence, the supporters of the bill (Lacson, Año, and Lorenzana—all ex-military/police) feel that this is what is needed to stop terrorism. But unfortunately, they assume that everyone they will detain are indeed terrorists. The proof to support that assumption will come from keeping these people under detention. If they already had the proof, they would have gone to the courts and filed charges, don’t you think? That’s the scary part.
About the safeguards—we are all witnesses of abuses on the part of the police (the military have for the most part behaved themselves). What is to prevent them, with much more leeway, from abusing even more? Safeguards never bothered them before. Scary.
I am afraid that this bill, which lends itself to even more abuses (because it gives the police more power and penalizes them less) will be the start of a reign of terror—not terror by nonstate actors, striking fear among the populace, but terror by the government, as in the Reign of Terror in France in 1870.
Given the behavior of the police on the whole these past three years, I would have thought that their power should have been curbed, not increased. And you know what happens with power—it corrupts.
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