An Offense against All

With the Human Security Act, the police and the military are in almost the same situation as they were during the early days of martial law, when they didn’t quite know what they could or couldn’t do– but did learn fast enough.

Vantage Point/Business World
Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VII, No. 27, August 12-18, 2007

The middle and lower ranks of the police and the military may have been confused by, and were in fact leery of, the Human Security Act (HSA). But that was before they were briefed by their superiors, who, taking their orders from their bosses who’re privy to the intent of that deliberately misnamed law, most likely assured them they had nothing to fear but fear itself from the Act’s so-called safeguards.

Among the latter are those provisions prohibiting torture and penalizing wrongful arrests with a fine of P500,000 each day a suspect is detained. True, the fine gave the police and military a few sleepless nights. While police and military men won’t have to pay the fine out of their pockets, their agencies will have to, and the generals can’t have any of that, can they? Imagine the reduction in perks like free gas and unaudited expenses such a drain on the budget can mean!

The bad news for everyone is that even the prospect of being fined doesn’t seem to bother our protectors anymore. If they detained someone for terrorism, and it turns out he was just a dirty ice cream vendor who wouldn’t know one end of a bomb from another, they can always say they arrested him for vagrancy and forgot about him in the Imus municipal jail. There’s also that other option, which some lawyers fear could mean more bodies in this country’s tainted rivers, and that’s to “neutralize” him out of existence, and to deny, deny, deny that they ever arrested him in the first place.

As for torture, the entire archipelago knows that pre-HSA laws already prohibit that, just as the same laws require the presence of a lawyer during interrogation, but that these bans are worth as much in practice as Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s word is.

The police and the military are in almost the same situation as they were during the early days of martial law, when they didn’t quite know what they could or couldn’t do– but did learn fast enough.

Fidel Ramos-remember him?-in fact apologized to the first group of martial law detainees in Camp Crame in 1972. As Chief of the Philippine Constabulary- whose name was never quite complete unless preceded by the adjective “dreaded” -Ramos was Chief of the
Command for the Administration of Detainees. So sorry, he told the teachers, students, journalists, labor leaders, and delegates to the Constitutional Convention who had been arrested under Proclamation 1081, “we’re new at this.”

Within days of Ramos’ apology, however, news of torture, beatings, and at least one detainee’s death spread in his own camp. Eventually the military learned that if it could get away with abductions and torture before Proclamation 1081, it could get away
with more during.

Which is precisely what could happen in these bad HSA days: if the country doesn’t watch out, the police and the military will soon learn the exact same lessons, by, among other means, arresting “terrorists” under the blanket authority of the HSA, and doing what they please with them.

For this enterprise, they have the usual suspects available at their convenience, meaning the Muslims. Thanks to widespread biases, the Muslims among us seem credible terrorist suspects. After all, not only some Manila broadsheets habitually describe Muslims as
“violent” and “treacherous, ” even some Mindanao papers have been known to describe Moros as “beasts” deserving of extermination.

The most recent trigger of these biases is the beheading of the 10 Philippine Marines in Basilan, which the military has been trying to pin on the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. But the bombing of buses in Koronadal City last week has also fallen like HSA manna
into the laps of the police and the military, providing them an opportunity to test their powers under the Act and the changed circumstances it has created.

A joint police-ISAFP (Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines) team arrested one Kaharudin Talib, who had recently arrived from Mindanao, in a Metro Manila mall last August 3. They detained him for three days under the terms of the HSA, and then presented him to the media on August 7 in one of those affairs in which suspects are presented to the public as convicted criminals with the collaboration of often uncritical media organizations.

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