The pending anti-terrorism bills in the Senate and the House of Representatives are normally seen as a “leftist concern” given that those who have expressed opposition to them are identified with militant organizations. At a recent roundtable discussion, however, journalists analyzed the controversial bills and concluded they threaten press freedom and civil liberties in general.
BY JHONG DELA CRUZ
More than just the concern of left-leaning groups, the pending anti-terrorism bills in the Senate and the House of Representatives should also be a cause of worry for those who value the protection of people’s rights.
In a roundtable discussion last November 19 at the University of the Philippines (UP) in Diliman, Quezon City, journalists concluded that there is much to know and oppose about the planned law especially given what broadcast journalist Julius Babao went through.
Babao was accused by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, citing a military intelligence report, of helping bail out Dawud Santos, an alleged member of the Rajah Solaiman Movement. ABS-CBN, his home station, later issued a statement belying the allegations and criticizing the President for the baseless accusation.
He admitted in an interview with Bulatlat that at the start, he was unaware of the consequences of the imposition of an anti-terrorism law.
“To be honest nagulat din ako sa nilalaman ng panukalang batas. Nakakatakot din pala,” (To be honest, I was surprised by the contents of the bill. There is indeed reason to be afraid.) he said, adding that false accusations related to terrorist acts could implicate media practitioners who do their duty.
The President further criticized the media during a conference of the Kapisanan ng Brodkaster sa Pilipinas (KBP, Association of Broadcasters in the Philippines) last Nov. 10 in Baguio City. She said that the media should shed its “bad boy image” and instead focus on her administration’s accomplishments.
National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) Secretary-General Carlos Conde said that the Julius Babao case was a way to fast-track the passage of the anti-terrorism bills. Conde said that Babao was used as a sacrificial lamb to ensure passage of the bills. The House version is now at the second reading of the Committee on Justice.
Conde said that if the law were passed, “Arroyo will use it to address a lot of her political troubles.” He stressed that the anti-terrorism bill is aimed to suppress opponents of the Arroyo administration.
Human rights lawyer Neri Colmenares said that there is no need for the proposed bill since the crimes highlighted in the bill are already being covered by existing Philippine laws.
Colmenares added that the bill vaguely defines terrorism as “a premeditated, actual use of violence or force against persons, or force or by any other means of destruction perpetrated against properties, environment, with the intention of creating or sowing a state of danger, panic, fear or chaos to the general public, group of persons or a segment thereof, or of coercing or intimidating the government to do or abstain from doing an act.”
The past two people’s uprising at EDSA in 1986 and 2001 that ousted two Philippine presidents, can therefore be considered acts of terrorism, he said. Likewise, jeepney strikes, rallies and even verbal threats which sometimes happen among quarreling neighbors fall could now be punishable under the proposed law.
The journalists’ coverage of activities by perceived enemies of the state could result in a lifetime imprisonment and a P10-million ($183,183.73, based on an exchange rate of P54.59 per US dollar) fine as vague concepts of “facilitating, contributing to and promoting” terrorism are included in sections 6 and 7 of the proposed House bill.
Maintaining links with suspected terrorists and reporting about false terrorist acts are similarly sanctioned in the bill.
“The bill will give birth to a kind of media that serve as mouthpiece of the state,” Colmenares said. “Those who fail to disclose acts of terrorism shall suffer a penalty of six years imprisonment, a provision that shall disrupt work routines of media practitioners as they are required to report first, not to their editors, but to the police.”
Conde pointed out the media has the tendency to narrow down the implications of the proposed law to the sector.
Rene Dilan, photographer of the Manila Times, was arrested by the military and police and was detained while covering an attack at the Globe Telecommunications office in Tarlac last October 2. Ricardo Uy, a Bicol-based journalist, was killed last Nov. 18, making him the seventh journalist to be killed this year.
Brazen acts of violence against media is a part of prevailing abuses against human rights in the country today, Conde said adding that the proposed anti-terrorism bill will impact ordinary citizens.
Babao said that only a handful from the broadcast industry may be aware of the repercussions of the proposed measure. “Kapag sinuri mo, doon mo makikita na hindi lamang sa media ito makakaapekto kundi pati sa mga ordinaryong tao.” (If you analyze it, you would see that it does not only affect media but also ordinary people.)
Conde said, “Most media practitioners shun it because they see it only as an issue of left-leaning organizations or those from the opposition.”
Thus, media education is needed to augment support to oppose the planned law, he said.
The roundtable discussion was organized by the NUJP which vowed to help broaden the opposition to the proposed anti-terrorism bills. (Bulatlat.com)