Arrest of Muslims stoke anti-terror bill fears for Hataman

Published June 14, 2020, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin

By Ellson Quismorio


Is this a portent of things to come?

Deputy Speaker and Basilan lone district Rep. Mujiv Hataman condemned on Sunday (June 14) the warrantless arrests of two Muslim traders in San Andres, Manila and the alleged illegal search of their residence that took place without a court order.

That the questionable police operation occurred on Friday, Independence Day and against the backdrop of the potential signing of the Anti-Terrorism Law makes it quite ironic, he said.

Hataman expressed dismay over the way the police handled the alleged operation against Saadudin Alawiya and Abdullah Maute, whom elements of the Manila Police District (MPD) have tagged as drug suspects.

“Hindi pa nga nagiging batas ang Anti-Terrorism Bill, may narinig na naman tayo na mga kwento ng pang-aabuso ng mga pulis sa mga kapatid nating Muslim. Pano pa kaya pag naging ligal na ang warrantless arrest sa ilalim ng panukalang ito? Ano na ang proteksyon ng mga Moro at iba pang Pilipino mula sa pang-aabuso? (The Anti-Terrorism Bill hasn’t been enacted yet and again I hear another story of police abuse against our brother Muslims. What then, if warrantless arrests became legal under this measure? What will protect Moros and other Filipinos from abuse?)” he asked.

Perhaps the most contentious provision in the proposed anti-terrorism law is the power of the police to conduct warrantless arrests and detention of up to 24 days. The bill is up for President Duterte’s signature.

Tension rose in the suspects’ residence in the afternoon of June 12, when anti-drugs agents of the MPD allegedly stormed their house without identifying themselves, conducted a search of the vicinity without any search warrant, and subsequently arrested the two without an arrest warrant.

The suspects’ relatives, who captured some of the four-hour ordeal on social media, claimed that the two were legitimate jewelry traders and not drug peddlers. They said the cops refused to show them identification and did not even coordinate the operation with barangay officials.

Hataman called on the leadership of the Philippine National Police (PNP) to probe this incident, as there seems to be mounting evidence to suggest that law enforcers in this case went beyond their authority and abused their powers.

“Ang sabi, buy-bust operation dapat ito. Ang sabi, dapat sa Luneta nangyari, pero hindi nagpakita. Given na totoo itong claim ng pulis, may kapangyarihan na ba sila na puntahan ang mga Muslim na ito sa bahay at halughugin ang kagamitan at arestuhin sila kahit walang warrant? (They said it was supposed to be a buy-bust operation. They said it was supposed to take place in Luneta, but they didn’t show up. Given that the police’s claim is true, does this give them the authority to barge into the home of these Muslims, search their belongings, and arrest them without warrants?)” he said.

“There is an uproar about what happened, and it involved trampling on basic human rights. And if this is the case, then we have to look closely at what happened. If they are really involved in drugs, then the police should build a better case against them instead of going the easy road and disregarding due process,” he further noted.

Too many shortcuts

The Basilan legislator is one of the estimated 30 congressmen who voted against the approval of the Anti-Terrorism Bill, which was been passed both on third reading in the Senate and House of Representatives.

He cited as reasons the removal of a section that penalized law enforcement agencies for P500,000 a day for any wrongful arrests; the real possibility it may be used against Moros who are the usual suspects and even political enemies of any sitting administration; and that it lacked a comprehensive and reformative program for the prevention of violent extremism, among many others.

“In condemning this incident, I am not passing judgment on the guilt or innocence of everyone involved, but I am expressing strong feelings against the way law enforcers handled the situation. Parang madaming shortcut ang ginawa (They made a lot of shortcuts). It would seem that they did not do their jobs well, and by failing in their responsibilities, they deprived people of their rights to due process. At ‘yan ay nakakatakot (That is frightening),” Hataman said.

“I hope that this will not be commonplace if the Anti-Terrorism Bill is signed into law. This is another reason to oppose such measures. If in drug cases, law enforcement can disregard basic rights of citizens, what more under this measure where they will be given more powers and more discretion?” he also said.

A fellow Muslim congressman, Anak Mindanao (AMIN) Party-List Rep. Amihilda Sangcopan, expressed her similar outrage over the police operation.

“This crude show of power is a clear example of how little and inconsequential we Moros are to some of our authorities. It is easy for them to trample on our rights and dignities as if our complaints will just merit nothing more than a slap on their wrists. I strongly criticize the manner in which the two suspects were arrested, and the warrantless search on their residence,” Sangcopan said.

She lamented that Muslims “continue to suffer the stigma of terrorism when we are the ones being terrorized and harassed repeatedly.”

“As citizens of this country, Moros are also entitled to the due process of law. But what happened is that the police appeared to have cut corners and went straight to searching the premises without securing a search warrant from a credible court. Ang kakulangan ng mga pulis sa pag-imbestiga, kinuha nila sa shortcut (What they lacked with their investigation, they compensated for with shortcuts),” Sangcopan said.

She reckoned that police should file an airtight case against the suspects if they are indeed involved in illegal drugs but “it doesn’t give them the right to disregard legal protocols and procedures.”

Vigilance is key

For his part, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano reiterated that the Anti-Terrorism Bill Congress has been approved and sent to President Duterte for his signature is not intended to stifle dissent and suppress activism.

“The proposed law is clear – its target is terrorism, not activism,” he said, alluding to the concerns of possible abuse by law enforcers if the bill is enacted.

Cayetano underscored the importance of staying vigilant against terrorism and anticipating what the terrorists are planning to do. “Sadly, fighting terrorism is not a theoretical exercise that we can discuss ad infinitum, ad nauseam, without real world consequences. Experience has shown us that inaction and hesitation at the wrong time can mean the death of thousands.”

He said terrorism “is an is ever-evolving issue that all countries – not just the Philippines – are grappling with right now.”

“And the fact is, it isn’t just governments that are adapting, but also the terrorists. Every time we have a new law, new weapons, or effective approaches and strategies against terrorism, the enemy also evolves, becoming more fierce, determined, and innovative in their efforts to destroy and kill people,” he said.

What this means, Cayetano pointed out, “is that we can never let our guard down – not against overreach by government, nor the acts of terrorists.”

“But contrary to what critics insist – these two objectives should not be mutually exclusive. With more trust and less politics, I am confident that we can have both. But to do this, we have to continue the dialogues and discussions on how to strengthen our democracy and, at the same time, the fight against terrorism,” he stressed.