The real terror behind the anti-terror bill

How the pursuit for improved national security can eventually turn into a dire threat to peoples’ freedom

2020 has had some of the worst moments in the 21st century so far. What does the rest of the year hold in store for us?

It goes without saying that this year will tell some of the most historic narratives in the 21st century. Almost every major movement/cause that has been inspiring an awakening in a great deal of nations in the world (ex., the BLM movement) is finally cutting through the noise of corrupt and incompetent governments.

However, despite an improving state of social equality, this upturn can only be sustained through collective effort and continuous exposure to (appropriate) outlets of information. We are nowhere near the end goal; we still have a whole lot of work to do if we want to achieve true social reform.

With each country facing their own problems at their own pace, it becomes increasingly difficult to find time to equally invest attention and interest to each cause. In the case of my country (the Philippines), a callback to a law proposal submitted for a third reading to the Philippine Senate in February has been creating more distrust in the already apprehensive relationship between the Philippine government and the Filipino people.

The Anti-Terrorism Law of 2020 has recently been regarded as an urgent matter by the president of the country. Citizens have taken to the internet and expressed their concern and distrust over the ratification of this law.

Perhaps one of the most striking provisions this bill proposes is granting law enforcers the power to arrest suspected ‘terrorists’ without a warrant, eschewing the function routinely reserved for courts. Furthermore, the bill also permits power to hold ‘potential’ terrorists under detention for 14 days. All this, among other problematic issues, is being condemned by members of human rights groups and the opposition in the country. They label the bill’s creation as ‘ill-advised’ and a threat to the rights of the country’s citizens. On top of that, it can potentially be used as a tool for abuse by the government to censor and obscure any form of criticism directed at government bodies or the policies they enact. Posted below is a comparison of the bill to the act (approved in 2007) it intends to amend:

Human Security Act of 2007 vs. Anti-Terrorism Bill of 2020 (1), Source
Human Security Act of 2007 vs. Anti-Terrorism Bill of 2020 (2), Source

Some (big) problems

  • Poorly written provisions — The bill intends to improve national security by defining and amending what was lacking in the 2007 Human Security Act. However, the revisions that were made (as seen above) can be distorted, to an extent, to specifically target any individual involved in expressing his/her suspicion and doubt on the actions of the government. Groups like the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) and the Concerned Lawyers for Civil Liberties (CLCL) have expressed their disagreement over the enforcement of this law, citing the unconstitutionality of the proposed act. Almost anyone who vaguely find themselves exhibiting one of the grounds for conviction may falsely be accused and red-tagged. A special body composed mainly of Cabinet officials appointed by the president would also provide the authority to enforce the law (Source).
  • Penalties — Granted that anyone is convicted of this act, the sanctions provided by the law allows prosecutors to put them in prison for 12 years (in some cases, as shown above, up to a lifetime). A person suspected of violating the proposed Anti-terrorist act may also be detained for as long as 24 days without being informed of the specific charges (Source). The necessity for longer detention times (which had a limit of 36 hours prior to the bill’s proposal) was defended by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana as he underscored the need to “investigate whether someone suspected of being a terrorist has actually involved himself/herself in acts of terrorism” (guilty until proven innocent principle).
  • No requirement to check for torture — The bill deleted the current requirement for officers to present an arrested suspect to a judge for assessment of whether the suspect has been subjected to physical, moral or psychological torture (Source).
  • Breach of citizens’ rights — The bill is a form of government overreach. It enables them to distort and manipulate the criteria for acts that would be considered ‘terrorism’ . It essentially overcompensates the need for improved national security (which would do nothing of the sort). Privacy of individuals are compromised as the government can secretly record, store, read, and use any information they gather from devices of suspected criminals using any means they may consider necessary. Ultimately, the power of this law is only as effective as its enforcement (or abuse).
  • An obvious attempt to preserve power — If the words and provisions of the bill are unclear, its intentions are not. Though the proponents of this law suggest that adequate safeguards are applied to avoid exploitation of the bill, we can only take their statements to be pretenses to mask their true resolve. With more and more Filipinos coming to educate themselves on the issues that plague the country, it was only a matter of time before the super majority had to do something about silencing those who desire improvement in the Philippine government.

Side note: It is important to keep in mind the necessity for this bill as well. Real extremist threats (like the Abu Sayyaf) still exist in the country. However, until the government attempts to review and revise the current provisions of the bill, support must not be given to it.

Updates:

- Several House members have withdrawn their ‘yes’ votes on the anti-terror bill. Overturn is still not enough for the bill to be withdrawn.

- Congress has submitted the bill to the Malacañang (June 9, 2020). It is now awaiting the president’s signature and approval (he may also choose not to act on it). Malacañang assures the public that the bill will go through proper examination (on its constitutionality) before being passed into law.

Bottom line: what do we do now?

In an era where technology surges through all spheres of our lives, our capacity to facilitate change has never been this easy.

Refusing to take a stand implies submission to the actions of the government. Again, if we do not demand change now, it is only a matter of time before they silence us completely. Remember: The essence of a democracy lies within the courage of those who seek what is right for the nation. Abuse will not stop unless we act on it now.

Ultimately, this essay serves one broad purpose: to rally the untapped potential of our words and protests to inspire change.

Unfortunately, even with this assertion, many are still unaware of the power their voices hold. We must make sure that the rights of our people (everyone) are protected. Talk to your friends about it, post online, sign petitions, write about it, there are tons of ways you could do to help the cause.

Do not waste that privilege and use it to preserve the core of democracy in the country. Read, listen, reflect, and educate. Raise your voice.

I write sometimes