Protecting our Rights and Liberties

(OM’s Statement on the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020)

The Congress of the Philippines starts its recess this week without the House of Representatives leaving to approve the law which authorizes increase of the election spending of candidates and to pass the new anti-terror law known as Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, completely lifted from the Senate version in order to escape established procedure, that seeks to replace the Human Security Act of 2007. In the days of June 2 and 3, the Department of Health declared to have a total reported number of Covid cases of 18,997 and 19,748, and of 966 and 974 deaths, respectively; today, June 5, the statistics continue to balloon to 20,626 total reported number of cases, with 987 deaths. Despite the worsening situation of coronavirus crisis, our legislators were only occupied to ensure their political interest and their master’s joy as President Duterte certified as urgent the anti-terror bill, leaving slowly behind passage of the stimulus bill that would revive the Philippine economy slow-downed by the crisis and allocate fund for mass testing of 20 million Filipinos. Sadly, Duterte’s government has not considered as priority to ease the difficulties that Filipino people suffer in this pandemic. Our people were instead abandoned helpless at the height of the rage of this dreaded virus that threatens their health and food security, and, more so, left defenseless against the incoming assaults of their democratic and constitutional rights by virtue of the new weapon President Duterte acquired in the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 ironically to further terrorize his own people and compromise their rights and well-being.

This week, as supreme head of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, we sign and endorse two official statements, the first was speaking with church leaders united in an ecumenical movement desiring for common unity in faith, in being a nation, in having one voice, and the other was joining with journalists, media organizations, civil society groups, academics and other concerned individuals as expression of our solidarity. We, as church head, find the position in both statements consistent with the ideals and convictions of the IFI as church grounded on the liberating truth of the Scriptures, on the empowering teachings of the Lord Jesus, and on the inspiring witness of the apostles and other saints and martyrs of the church and heroes of faith like Gregorio Aglipay and Isabelo de los Reyes Sr and others in the nationalist and revolutionary tradition of the Filipino people. We stand in agreement with the two statements that question and oppose the approval and content of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020. We ask our bishops and clergy to join with us to unequivocally reject the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 and to call on our church members and people of good will in this country to junk it as a monster law that is out to trample furthermore the democratic and constitutional rights of the Filipino people by its draconian nature.

We believe that the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 will not serve justice and peace for our people especially the politically marginalized and economically disadvantaged among our workers, farmers, urban poor, Lumad communities and Moro people and those who advocate for their cause and struggle like the social activists, rights defenders and people’s organizers among the lawyers, doctors, teachers, journalists, broadcasters, students and church people, who always find themselves – in past and present governments - being subjects of accusation and vilification as terrorists or belonging to terrorist groups because they opt to serve, and accompany the journey with, the poor, deprived and oppressed working to be freed from unjust and oppressive structures in society, to achieve decent living and humane life, and to build on a better, compassionate and caring society. Many of our bishops, clergy and lay workers in the IFI, because of their commitment to minister to our people, have in fact encountered and experienced being harassed, threatened and red-tagged by the state security officers. By its very nature, the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 is more oppressive than the Human Security Act of 2007 that it intends to supplant because its claws are now more harsh and sharpened and have more pangs. As we articulated in the statement the Voice of Faith, with other church leaders, we noted that this new law:

  1. Carries a broad definition of the term terrorism and a wide range of crimes attributable as acts of terrorism, which will certainly be utilized and taken advantaged by the government and its state security forces to attack the human rights and civil liberties of those who criticize government’s policies and who exercise their right to dissent;
  2. Weakens the judicial system and the constitutionally enshrined function to check-and-balance the actions of other branches of government, including the state security forces under the executive branch and the powerful Anti-Terrorism Council composed of unelected, senior cabinet officials who will determine who are the terrorists and who engage with their prescribed acts of terrorism;
  3. Provides greater space and allowances for surveillance, wire-tapping, and invasion of privacy of any individual on mere suspicion of being an alleged terrorist, even without any evidence of wrongdoing, violating our right to privacy as enshrined in the Bill of Rights of our Constitution;
  4. Allows warrantless arrests and detention of persons for a period of fourteen (14) days, stretchable to another ten (10) days without charges, denying the basic constitutional right of due process;
  5. Has removed the financial penalties to be awarded to persons detained under false pretense as well as other safeguards against abuse by police officers and soldiers, thus increasing the likelihood of gross impunity to be committed by state forces.

Given with our experience with the present government and the behavior of its state security forces, the new Anti-Terrorism Act is designed to repress the rights of the Filipino people who are now growing restless with the amount of poverty, neglect and injustice they suffer every day of their lives, especially in these times of the pandemic crisis. It is intended to stifle dissent of the public who now begin to realize that our national independence, patrimony, sovereignty is consistently compromised by the dogged subservience and puppetry of Duterte’s government to foreign powers and to the plunderous schemes of multinational corporations and big local capitalists. It is passed to become a law to silence critics and quell protests, in the guise of fighting terrorism, in the name of protecting the people, but actually of keeping the Duterte’s government in its remaining years safe from the wrath of the people whom he deceived with false hope and deceitful promise of change and drenched our land with the blood of his senseless killings.

Together with other leaders in various sectors of our society, we ask that we express our outrage against these cunning ways of our political leaders by forging our solid unity and opposition to the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, and by raising its constitutionality at the Supreme Court if ever President Duterte insists to sign it as a law. Its becoming a law forebodes the unwarranted loss of our human rights and civil liberties that shape and define our sacred humanity.

Obispo Maximo
Manila, Philippines

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