Academic freedom imperiled by proposed Anti-Terrorism Law

Published June 18, 2020, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin



Dean Mel Sta. Maria
Dean Mel Sta. Maria

The proposed law mandates that the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) shall have as two of its support groups the Commission on Higher Education and the Department of Education (3rd paragraph of Section 45). Why are these two departments included? Given the enormous power granted to the ATC “to formulate and adopt comprehensive, adequate, efficient and effective plans, programs, or measures to prevent, counter, or eradicate the commission of terrorism in the country and to protect the people from such acts” ( Section 45), is there a danger that the ATC could interfere with academic freedom of higher learning by unduly using the DepeE and the CHED?

I believe that it is not an impossibility.

What if law or political science professors engage their students to research, debate, defend, or debunk the propriety or the pros and cons of socialism, Marxism, or even liberation theology where inevitably the concept of “armed struggle” will be part of the discussions and then the ATC, not experts in these topics, suspects these as an indoctrination to a terroristic ideology. Will this be enough to take into custody the professors and the students for “inciting to terrorism”? Section 29 provides that, with the written authority of the ATC,  any law enforcement agent or military personnel  can take into custody those “suspected of committing” crimes punished under the proposed law.

What if  moral theology/philosophy professors  discuss St. Thomas Aquinas’ “bellum iustum” dealing with the justification for war. Can a police arrest the professors on suspicion that “bellum iustum” is a pretext for “proposing” terrorism or “inciting” their students to commit terrorism? Again, Section 29 making the threshold for an arrest based merely on suspicion could allow that apprehension.

“This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or exercise their revolutionary right to overthrow it.” That quote is from Abraham Lincoln, one of the greatest  United States presidents. What if a professor assigned the students to analyze that statement and the ATC and the police, on mere suspicion pursuant to Section 29, apprehend the professor because, according to them, such assignment  referring to the revolution  is a form of “inciting to terrorism”?

“A revolution, woven in the dim light of mystery, has kept me from you. Another revolution will return me to your arms, bring me back to life.” This is one of the memorable quotes in “EL Filibusterismo” written by Jose Rizal. What if a theatrical play created, written, produced, and directed by students were shown revolving around that statement? Is it possible that those in the ATC and the police, again on mere suspicion, treat this as a “proposal to commit terrorism” and therefore apprehend the students, producers, directors,   and writers of the show? This is possible considering that merely being “suspected of committing” a crime under the proposed Anti-Terrorism Law can be the basis of an arrest without a judicial  warrant.

Can the ATC require the CHED or the Department of Education to formulate a curriculum prohibiting, tempering or limiting the study of ideologies or advocacies which it suspects as “creating a serious risk to public safety” and therefore “endangers  a person’s life”  pursuant to  Section 4 (a) of the proposed Anti-Terrorism Law? Indeed, the grant of vast powers can easily be abused and misused —- powers which serve as a lure any despot may find hard to resist.

Educational institutions, professors, and students may  be subjected to surveillance for what  law enforcement may erroneously suspect as  subversive activities.  This becomes more pronounced when we consider that professors and students are not exempted from surveillance like “lawyers and clients, doctors and patients, journalists and their sources, and confidential business correspondence.”  (Section 16)

Academic freedom  will be threatened by the proposed Anti-Terrorism Law. It can serve as a “sword of Damocles” over   learning institutions, professors, lecturers, and  students. Free, unrestricted, robust,  and  even caustic discussions on anything that might antagonize the government can be negated by self-restraint and self-censorship  for fear of being labelled as “terrorists” which may entail incarceration. Government interference not merely through fiat but via outright  warrantless apprehensions will always be a threat.  The “market place of ideas”  which a university should be may be unduly stifled.  I hope we will not see the day when teachers and students  will be  taken into custody as  terrorists merely on the basis of suspicion.