It is alarming yet hardly surprising how Congress is railroading an act such as the Anti-Terrorism Bill. After all, they’ve been historically responsible for the passage of countless anti-citizen policies that have caused nothing but harm towards the Filipino people.
The Anti-Terrorism Bill, filed by Duterte-allied senators, is supposedly a “stronger legal instrument” to purge terrorism in the country. However, its provisions, along with a vague definition of what “terrorism” even is, may serve as a weapon of the state’s crackdown on activists and progressive groups.
If ratified, the police would be allowed to detain individuals for two to four weeks; give 12-year sentences to those who have “incited” others to revolt, even if the person has not done any acts of terrorism; and allow the surveillance of suspects for as long as 60-90 days by police and military.
With the current branding of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) of militant groups as “Communist Terrorist Groups”, the provisions of this bill may be prone to abuse and justify the mass arrests of civil and political activists that have legitimate calls which institutions must address. A tactic of the state to silence dissenters – a clear threat to our democracy.
Progressive opposition figures and formations are now clamoring for its rejection, since it would be prone to abuse – harming the freedom of speech, further institutionalizing the crackdown on activists, and normalizing violence. Even without the bill, there has already been a witch hunt on labor, peasant, and student leaders, along with other progressive individuals. An incident last April serves as a testament to this, with active members of the Ligang Pinalakas ng Manggagawa ng Coca-Cola Philippines being visited by five military personnel in civilian attire, and forced the workers to surrender as members of the New People’s Army.
There is an underlying irony in the state’s efforts to forward such a harmful bill, considering the amount of human rights violations perpetrated by their forces. In the quarantine alone, there have already been countless abuses by local government officials, and military and police elements.
In late April, a man in a private village was assaulted by an official of the Makati police, injuring him. The police attempted to arrest him despite a lack of legal basis, and told his wife that she would be arrested as well. Their record of violations is disturbingly severe that they cannot even defend their own kind – having shot dead Winston Ragos, a 34-year old ex-army corporal who suffered from schizophrenia, formerly assigned in the Bicol region. Ragos was unarmed and was killed when he attempted to reach for his quarantine pass.
Last November, communities of over 600 Mangyan from Victoria and Mansalay, Oriental Mindoro were forced to evacuate to the lowlands due to intensified attacks brought upon by Duterte’s counterinsurgency program – Oplan Kapanatagan – their area affected by strafing and bombing operations by the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Militarization too has become rampant due to Executive Order 70, ordering several government agencies to operate under a “whole of nation approach” for counterinsurgency. EO 70 is the same order that established the NTF-ELCAC, whose elements frequently link several legal and legitimate groups with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines, despite the constant lack of evidence and the legality of the CPP and NDFP. These accusations combined with the possibility of an Anti-Terrorism Act is a dangerous combination for dissenters, opposition leaders, and even innocent civilians. All it takes is a “terrorist” label to be a suspect for the state.
Indeed, the state has a monopoly over violence. While they are out pinpointing the resistance as terrorists, they themselves remain to be the leading perpetrator of human rights violations in the country. All the while, they choose to turn a blind eye on all the acts of violence they have caused. They have weaponized legitimacy through the law in order to justify the countless killings, harassment, and violations from their ranks under the Duterte administration.
The state has no moral ascendancy to implement the Anti-Terrorism Bill, and if any group needs to be accountable at the moment, it is the AFP and PNP for all the violations they have done. [P]