Another feature is the authority to look into one’s bank accounts on the mere suspicion that you are a terrorist or involved in a terrorist act. That is obviously an invasion of one’s privacy on the mere say-so of an executive officer without any judicial sanction.
The third is the proscription of organizations that may be considered terrorist or involved in terrorist acts. That questionable definition creates a lot of problems. If the definition is problematic, then that is dangerous if you designate certain organizations as terrorist or involved in terrorist acts. Obviously that provision was intended to undermine or vilify legitimate national liberation movements like the CPP, NPA and the NDFP and the MILF. Another feature is indefinite detention. It is unprecedented, because normally in crimes in the Philippines … penalty is according to the gravity of the offense, according to whether there are mitigating or aggravating circumstances. If there are aggravating circumstances, the penalty is higher. But in this case, it is single and indivisible matter, it is life imprisonment which is technically 40 years. Another point is, it is non-probationable, in other words, it does not allow for rehabilitation or for reformation of any person convicted of the act of terrorism.
Then there is the ridiculous provision which was intended to appease a lot of opposition to the anti-terrorism law: That anyone who is unjustly detained or arrested will be compensated with half a million pesos for each day of unjust detention. That is ridiculous, because to start with, whose money is going to be used anyway? It is people’s money. Secondly, it is unbelievable that the Philippine government will pay half a million pesos to somebody they have already arrested and tortured. It cannot even pay ten thousand pesos to a victim of human rights violations. And another fundamental point is, it does not cover the acts of terrorism of the State itself which is the worst kind of terrorism.
R: That was very comprehensive, indeed! What’s your comment on Ka Bel’s and Ka Satur’s case?
O: Ka Bel’s and Ka Satur’s cases exemplify the kind of absurdity and the lengths by which the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo government can go to silence its critics and to create fear and terror among the people and the protesting activists. As a lawyer, I find it unbelievable that on the basis of false information, false witnesses, conflicting documents submitted by the government, and of ridiculous allegations one can be detained unjustly. In the case of Ka Bel, the witnesses presented were either coerced or coached. They later testified on matters that are in contradiction with each other on facts alone. As regards Ka Satur, there is no case against him but he is in jail right now. He was charged with the multiple murder of several civilians several decades ago, so on the basis alone of the prescriptive period no case can be filed against him anymore. On the second point, assuming those facts are true which they are not, the crime was already erased by the general amnesty issued by Cory Aquino when she came into power, given that the alleged act was committed during the time of Marcos. Moreover, there is no probable cause as the witnesses said unbelievably that they saw Ka Satur’s signature written on a piece of paper, a so-called order that directs the New People’s Army to kill the civilians. They claimed to remember Ka Satur’s signature for three or five seconds, and this was 20 or so years ago.
It was also found out during the Supreme Court hearings that the very same set of skeletons submitted as evidence in Ka Satur’s case against a set of people as victims were proven to have been used in a previous case in 1985 against a different set of victims by the same prosecutor, and again if I am not mistaken, in 1995. Politically, this is very costly to the government. It is ridiculous, it’s gonna backfire on them. But the government of Arroyo does not care, really. It is insensitive, it is callous, and arrogant. I just came from Washington, D.C. where Senator Boxer, chair of the U.S. Senate Sub-committee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs on Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing on extra-judicial killings in the Philippines, castigated publicly the Arroyo government for sending military and police officers to the hearing as a subtle intimidation of the witnesses. It backfired.
R: Why did you finally choose the forum of the Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT) – what in particular accounts for its strength?
O: It is a tribunal made up of very prestigious and credible personages whose competence and integrity are beyond reproach. Likewise, it has a historical record of coming up with very competent, credible and comprehensive findings in its area of coverage.
I think the basic question is, why are we here? Why do we have to go all the way here? This is because the traditional local government remedies available in the Philippines – legal, judicial or otherwise – have been proven to be ineffective or even illusory, because they do not bring justice, they do not act concretely on the cry for justice, and even adds to the impunity, for the violations of human rights, in particular of extra-judicial killings. Another strength of the PPT is that, it does not confine itself to the legalist framework. The rules of evidence, in so far as the admission of information, data, reports, analysis is concerned, are more relaxed and welcomed in the spirit of getting the whole picture rather than trying to be technical about it and trying to close the door to information that might help one form a very comprehensive conclusion. That is not to say, however, that the evidence, information and reports that will be taken at the PPT are not credible – at the very least they are credible and verifiable.