Congress: A Hall of Injustice

Reacting to the Senate approval, CODAL, a group of lawyer-civil libertarians, said SB 2137 surpasses what the House version intends “to terrorize legitimate dissenters.” Many of its provisions, the group said, are in violation of the 1987 Constitution specifically with regard to the indefinite detention of “terrorist suspects” and repressive provisions on surveillance, opening and freezing of accounts, and other threats on civil liberties.

In a text message to Bulatlat, CODAL also warned that the ratification of the ATB, a “legal monster,” is being fast-tracked to be used against the opposition during the election.

Endorsed by President Macapagal-Arroyo as a priority bill in exchange for U.S. military aid, the ATB was filed in Congress to add “legal teeth” to her war on terrorism the thrust of which is actually in the form of counterinsurgency against the Marxist-led armed movement. With the counter-insurgency campaign – now the extended Oplan Bantay Laya II (Operation Plan Freedom Watch II) – under criticism both in the Philippines and abroad especially in the wake of the Melo fact-finding commission’s confirmation of military complicity in the series of extra-judicial killings of activists, the ATB is anticipated to be used as a legal weapon against party-list groups, people’s organizations and other institutions tagged by the military as “front organizations” of the armed Left.

Laws, especially the repressive kind, are always open to abuse. Portentous, as Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo had shown last year when she declared a state of national emergency and issued gag orders clipping the investigative powers of the Senate, is that the ATB offers the potential of being used against the critics of the President including members of the upper chamber. The senators who voted for the bill have nothing to say against the constitutional anomaly that while the ATB gives the chief executive and the military vast authoritarian powers it is silent on Congress’ lack of power as a “check and balance mechanism” to executive abuse except to say that the law can be subject to a regular review.

Congress has been sitting on bills filed by Bayan Muna (BM or people first) making torture punishable as a criminal act, calling for the immediate investigation of human rights violations and other measures intended to enhance civil and political rights. It is discriminatory yet incomprehensible for the legislature to enact a bill that threatens freedom while being torpid on bills that protect and enhance civil liberties. There is no sense of logic in approving a bill that increases the repressive powers of the executive department knowing that it will, as a result, marginalize legislative powers. Congress is not only an eroded institution – it is headed to its own doom. (

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