OPINION: New anti-terror measure legislates de facto tyranny

Inday Espina-Varona

Posted at Jun 25 2018 10:33 PM

A working draft of legislation seeking to strengthen the Philippines’ anti-terror legislation expands the definition of “terrorism” while dropping the burden of proof for state agents.

Unless civil libertarians and rights advocates move fast, tens of thousands of Filipinos may find themselves in the crosshairs of tyranny before 2018 ends.

The June 7 working draft, consolidating bills filed by Representatives Amado T. Espino, Jr., Gary C. Alejano and Leopoldo N. Bataoil -- all former members of the police and military -- is currently the subject of hearings by the joint technical working group of the House Committees on Public Order and National Defense and Security.

That draft chills the blood.

Netizens are largely focused on Duterte’s outrageous remarks. But behind the television and livestream drama are relentless assaults on democratic processes.

The man who calls God stupid is now coming for everyone, unless you are a true blue worshipper of the gospel of Lord Digong.

Maybe Magdalo’s Alejano, a critic of Duterte, will distance himself from this red carpet for dictatorship. We’ll see. The President is expected to include this as an urgent measure during his State of the Nation Address next month.

Undeclared martial law

Kabataan Rep. Sarah Elago is right: There is an insudous plan normalize the atmosphere of martial law “without having to go through the legal requisites of making a formal declaration.”

The still unnumbered bill amends the 11-year-old Human Security Act (Republic Act 9372). Here are some of the key changes:

· It raises the penalty for terrorism from 40 years to life imprisonment;

· It allows police and soldiers to detain suspects for 30 days without filing cases, from three days under the existing law;

· It expands the list of terror acts to include most crimes in the country’s penal code;

· It places the Armed Forces on the same law enforcement plane as the Philippine National Police; and

· It drops the P500,000 a day damage for unproven charge of terrorism.

If this measure passes, practically all forms of dissent, even legitimate protest actions, could become fair game for a vast anti-terror dragnet.

Journalists and millions of outspoken Filipino social media critics face grave dangers.

The proposed law punishes persons or groups that release statements or acts, through any medium, that “directly or indirectly encourage, justify, honor of otherwise induce the commission of terrorist acts” or “glorify designated individuals or organizations.”

This opens journalists who interview fugitives or persons declared as terrorists to being charge as accessories or accomplices.

“They (authors) equate journalism’s vocation for truth-telling as ‘glamorization’ of terrorist groups,” former Bayan Muna legislator Neri Colmenares said in an interview over the weekend.

“They think journalists who interview suspects, instead of informing on their whereabouts, are accessories to terrorism,” he added.

The problem is, the list of suspects could now include any dissenter.

Proscription

For context, think about the government’s petition asking courts to declare almost 700 persons as terrorists.

The list includes legal personalities, including Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, United Nations special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples; Philippine Star columnist and former Bayan Muna congressman Satur Ocampo; Joanna Patricia Kintanar CariƱo of the Cordillera People’s Alliance, other indigenous Cordilleran and Lumad activists, anti-mining and anti-coal campaigners in Ilocos, Southern Tagalog, and Negros, peasants leaders and church workers.

Under the proposed measure, journalists could be punished for reporting on them and netizens for sharing their statements and announcements. This would cede media space to pro-government personages and groups.

Worse, the new measure’s provisions could lead to an infinite number of requests for new proscriptions.

The draft includes violation of the country’s Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act (Republic Act 9165) among terrorist acts -- though has been little evidence, except for Duterte’s tirades, to show links between rebel groups and drugs -- and acts “that risk public health, safety or security or interfere and disrupt critical infrastructure, including transportation services.”

A crucial change has been made on the predicate motives of terrorism.

The current law states, “in order to coerce the government to give in to an unlawful demand.” The amendment is, “to compel government to do or to abstain from doing any act.”

“That kind of overreach will make terrorists of striking transport workers and workers in crucial sectors who only want to improve their lives,” Colmenares warned. “They’ve encompassed all crimes; everything is there."

Big Brother stalking

New anti-terror provisions lower the standard of proof in getting wiretap and surveillance orders. Instead of the requisite “personal knowledge,” state agents now only have to cite reasonable ground of suspicion.

RA 9372 exempts communications between lawyers and clients, doctors and patients, journalists and their sources and confidential business correspondence from surveillance, interception and recording. That has been dropped in the pending measure.

The existing law limits authority to issue wrrants on anti-terror cases to the Court of Appeals. The amended measure would allow regional trial courts (which hear proscription cases) to issue surveillance, intercept and arrest warrants.

The current law gives law enforcers three days to charge suspects. The amended measure lengthens the period to 30 days.

In a country where the President has threatened to bomb indigenous schools for churning out fierce critics of government’s bias for big business, the measure also threatens church and aid groups that provide support for the beleaguered alternative schools.

“The basic problem is the government seeks to make terrorists of every dissident,” said Rius Valle, Mindanao spokesperson of Save Our Schools network.

“Indigenous people and other activists already face great repression,” he pointed out. “This law only institutionalizes injustice.”

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.