The war against global terrorism should never curtail democratic rights and civil liberties enshrined in our Constitution and the laws of our land.
We would like to believe that most Filipinos do not want a country where the exercise of constitutional rights and protections would depend on the whim of whoever is in power.
They do not want to live in a country where those who wish to speak truth to power can be persecuted with official and legal sanctions.
Proponents of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, which President Duterte had prioritized in the middle of a raging pandemic, claim the measure will do none of these, that it poses no danger to democracy.
Those of us who doubt this need only point to the parade of absurdities that passes for democracy in this country.
Edgar Candule, a farmer and Aeta community member in Botolan, Zambales, was arrested on March 21, 2008 on suspicion of being a member of the communist New People’s Army (NPA).
He was charged with illegal possession of firearms and violation of Republic Act 9372, also known as the Human Security Act (HSA), the law this new “Terror” Act seeks to replace.
Candule was jailed for almost three years and was allegedly tortured during his detention before he was eventually acquitted and released in November 2010.
He has yet to get justice for his wrongful conviction and detention. He was only lucky to have survived it.
Brothers Reynaldo and Raymond Manalo were abducted in 2006 and detained for a year on suspicion of being communist sympathizers.
The Court of Appeals established that then Army Major General Jovito Palparan and his men were involved in the abduction. The CA’s (2nd Division) statement against Palparan was contained in the decision that granted the writ of amparo to the Manalo brothers, who sought protection from the court from another possible military abduction.
The writ of amparo was issued by the Supreme Court specifically to address the hundreds of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in the country.
In the hearing of another amparo petition filed by the mothers of two abducted students from the University of the Philippines, Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empreño, Raymond Manalo testified seeing the UP students in Camp Tecson where he was also brought. He said he managed to talk to Cadapan, who was chained to a bed.
The two women went missing while doing fieldwork in Hagonoy, Bulacan in June 2006. They were never found. Palparan was sentenced to life in prison for his involvement in their kidnapping and illegal detention.
Jonas Burgos was alone and unarmed in 2007 when abducted by soldiers in civilian clothes in a Quezon City restaurant. “Aktibista lang po ako [I am just an activist]!” he was heard shouting.
Jonas managed the family farm in Bulacan and conducted organic farming seminars for peasant farmers, including those affiliated with the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, which the Armed Forces of the Philippines had labeled a communist “front” organization.
He has not been found.
They are just a few of the Filipinos, including activists, environmentalists, journalists, human-rights defenders and other social justice advocates, who were arrested, detained or abducted, even killed, by security forces under the guise of carrying out our laws.
Sadly, there have been few and far occasions when people can get assurances that this is NOT the new normal in the legal landscape of our supposedly democratic nation.
So again, please forgive us for being doubtful when proponents of this “Terror” act claim that only true terrorists should be afraid of it.
Human-rights lawyer Edre Olalia said it best: “We have mandatory rights of the arrested and accused in the Constitution, the laws and rules; a strict law against torture; a comprehensive law against disappearances; rules on habeas corpus and the novel amparo. We are a signatory or party to all but one international instrument on various human rights, and we even have a bilateral agreement on human rights. And yet the violations continue and are rampant and impunity prevails. And we are assured there are enough safeguards in the Anti-Terrorism Bill anyway?”
Terrorism is indeed an evil we all must fight, and we all know the nightmare of Marawi is something that can be repeated anytime. The question that will always be weighed in this debate is: what is there in this ATB, had it been in the statutes earlier, that would have helped us prevent a Marawi, or deal with it better? What would have helped it nip in the bud what turned out, based on government intel, a massive fund network for the Maute Group? The ATB champions insist it would have. We hope, for all our sakes, they’re right.
Image credits: Jimbo Albano