An Offense against All

Talib was accused of being a Jemah Islamiyah member, and the driver of a car bomb police had seized in South Cotabato last June 13. He was also accused of involvement in a plot to bomb Metro Manila targets. But Talib’s lawyer said he was in Manila to look for a job abroad, was working as a tricycle driver meanwhile, and had been tortured into admitting membership in JI and involvement in the Mindanao bombings. A Manila media practitioner, whose anti-Muslim biases are well known, promptly presented Talib’s “confession” during an interview as further proof that he was indeed a terrorist.

Either Talib’s lawyer was lying or the police and military were. The latter denied they had Talib until they presented him to the media. But what was most telling was their “follow up operation” on August 4 on Talib’s rented room in a boarding house in Manila’s
Maharlika Village, where, after forcing other residents out, the police and military emerged with “evidence” that, indeed, Talib was plotting a terrorist bomb attack on Manila targets.

Both the arrest and the “follow-up operation” took place without the benefit of a warrant, which the HSA allows against terrorism suspects. But there’s more. Talib’s being labeled a terrorist was apparently enough justification not only for the police and the military to arrest him without a warrant and keep him incommunicado for three days, but also for them to enter Talib’s room, search it without a warrant, and “discover” bomb- making parts.

Few people still care enough to be outraged over the wrongful arrest of someone from an ethnic and religious group against whom there’s widespread majority bias. But Muslim lawyers point out that the arrest of Talib, who’s likely to be innocent, allows the real terrorists to get away with bombings and other depredations.

That’s true enough. But there’s also the even more crucial truth that abuses against minority groups usually end up spreading and metastasizing through the entire society. That has always been a constant danger, held in fragile check by the most Herculean efforts, in this land of lawlessness. But the HSA has made it even more likely unless everyone realizes that an offense against the rights of anyone will encourage offenses against the rights of all. That’s what Filipinos painfully learned during the martial law period. It’s time to learn that lesson again, before the police and the military relearn theirs.Business World/Posted

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