By the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN)
Posted by Bulatlat
Welcome to the dark ages.
On February 8, voting 16-2, the Senate passed on final reading the Human Security Act of 2007, more commonly known as the Anti-Terrorism Bill (ATB). A day after, the bicameral conference committee of both chambers of Congress adopted the Senate version in toto. Immediately, the Senate ratified the bicameral report while the House of Representatives failed to muster a quorum to approve the bill. The failure of the House pushed the approval of the ATB to June 4.
June would prove too long for Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the main proponent of the terror measure. Even as Congress adjourned, Arroyo issued Proclamation 1235 calling for special session of Congress to approve the ATB. The special session is scheduled on February 19 and 20. Election season notwithstanding, the Macapagal-Arroyo regime is hell-bent on signing the ATB into law as soon as possible.
Contrary to statements by opposition senators who voted in favor of the bill, the Senate version is not at all toothless. Many provisions violate rights guaranteed by the Philippine Constitution and even by international humanitarian law conventions.
1. Dangerously vague definition
The definition of terrorism remains vague and overbroad. Sec 3 of the Anti-Terror bill states:”…sowing and creating a condition of widespread and extraordinary fear and panic among the populace in order to coerce the government to give in to an unlawful demand.”
With this kind of definition, Arroyo can use the law as an instrument to quell legitimate dissent. Critical political exercise may be deemed as an act coercing the government to give in to an unlawful demand. The ouster of Arroyo, for example, is and will always be interpreted as “unlawful.”
The bill also does not qualify what constitutes a “condition of widespread and extraordinary fear and panic.”
Moreover, Sec. 17 of the proposed bill allows for the proscription of organizations as terrorists on the mere application by the Department of Justice before any Regional Trial Court (RTC). All it takes is for Justice Sec. Raul Gonzalez to file a case before any RTC and an organization, association or group of persons may be declared as a terrorist and thus outlawed.
Judging from the recent pronouncements and practice of the regime, the first casualties of the proposed bill would be members of revolutionary armed movements, like the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) and the Moro International Liberation Front (MILF). This would be contrary to established Philippine jurisprudence such as the Hernandez Doctrine which states that all acts in pursuit of one’s political beliefs are absorbed in one crime of rebellion and cannot be divided into several common crimes.
Next to be likely tagged as terrorists are groups which state agents have already labeled as “front organizations.” These include legal and legitimate people’s organizations, which are already facing various forms of harassment under the present system.
It cannot be denied that according to international law and resolutions, international humanitarian law and conventions, the commentaries of numerous legal scholars as well as judicial doctrine pertaining to the matter, acts in pursuit of one’s political beliefs are considered legitimate, have legal recognition and cannot be regarded, much less penalized, as terrorism.
2. Infringement of rights
Suspects of terrorism will be denied due process and presumption of innocence. One may be deprived of the right to travel and the right to communicate on the mere suspicion of terrorism.
Sec. 26 states: “Restriction on the Right to Travel—In cases where evidence of guilt is not strong, and the person charged is …granted… bail, the court shall …limit the right of travel of the accused to within the municipality or city where he resides. He or she may also be placed under house arrest by order of the court… While under house arrest, he or she may not use telephones, cell phones, emails, computers, the internet or other means of communications with people outside his residence until otherwise ordered by the court.”
Under Sec. 19, in the event of actual or imminent terrorist attack, suspects may be detained for 48 hours without warrant. Municipal, city, provincial or regional human rights commission officials are authorized to order the detention of suspected terrorists beyond 48 hours. This is a clear violation of the Sec. 18, Article VII of the Constitution which provides that “During the suspension of the privilege of the writ, any person thus arrested or detained shall be judicially charged within three days, otherwise he shall be released.”