Blatant disregard for the voice of the people

Published July 10, 2020, 11:02 PM

by Dr. Florangel Rosario Braid

PAGBABAGO

On the eve of President Duterte’s signing of the controversial RA 11479, his advisers had asked him to carefully reconsider what he intended to do because of  mounting opposition.  They were specifically referring to the Bangsamoro leaders who brought their petition to the President that same day.

I don’t remember any legislative measure that had been faced with such passionate controversy, fear, and anxiety that this bill had generated. So much so that I really thought he would veto or send it back to Congress for further revision. But I was wrong.

Even before the signing, there were protests, posts on social media reflecting people’s righteous indignation but all these were ignored.  

Among the more than a dozen groups and thousands of citizens from all over various regions which marched in the streets carrying posters, and issuing statements and petitions, were framers of the Constitution who noted onerous provisions. They said:

“The law sends a chilling effect on freedom of expression, creates a climate of fear and puts us on a slippery slope to authoritarianism… It does not provide the accused the opportunity to present evidence to the contrary in a fair hearing. Even the mechanism of a trial is not reassuring. The Charter deleted ASSO or “Arrest, search, and seizure orders” but with this law, we may be unwitting witnesses to a return to a past of unwelcome experiences… The Anti-Terrorism Council is empowered to unilaterally designate the accused already a ‘terrorist’ even prior to a court determination.”

“There is no universal definition of terrorism,” they noted. “Thus, in assessing ATA, we must look into both the content and the context as even a good law may have disastrous consequences because of bad governance and weak institutional mechanisms.”

By context, the framers are referring to the socio-economic and political realities in the country. Those who defend the law must therefore realize that the country has many attributes of a weak state – weak law enforcement, poor implementation of the system of checks and balances, separation of powers, and lack of due process, and an independent judiciary.

“Further,” the statement notes, “life of the law has not been logic but experience. And our experience with authoritarianism is that it breeds little dictators in both the local governments and enforcement agencies, with the poor bearing the worst abuses.”

In other words, the greatest threat posed by the ATA is the erosion of democracy. That it may be used to stifle government critics is a common perception by human rights advocates. Anyone “threatening, planning, training, fraternizing, proposing and inciting to terrorism” can be subject to arrest,” is a provision that  indeed is frightening.

Below is only a partial list of groups representing various sectors and diverse social groups. For the past months and even before the bill was passed in Congress, they were already armed with their dissent,  pointing to the threats it presents.

  • Mindanaon lawmakers and Bangsamoro lawyers and students say  that the measure will benefit their terror-struck region the most as it would incite violence.
  • A group of lawyers and civic activists led by Howard Calleja and former Education Secretary Armin Luistro.
  • Far Eastern University professors led by law dean Melencio Sta Maria. The group asked the Supreme Court to strike down 13 provisions, namely Secions  4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 0, 10, 11, 12, 25, 26, 27, & 29. 
  • The 14-member Makabayan bloc of the House of Representatives led by Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate.
  • Business groups.  Makati Business Club and the Management Association of the Philippines noted that the law was unnecessary; that the administration should focus on the country’s economic recovery.  MAP implored lawmakers  to address dangerous provisions to ensure rights were protected.
  • Former Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said the law should be challenged before the Supreme Court for its unconstitutional provisions.
  • Former chief of the Government Corporate Counsel Rudolf Jurado based his petition on the issue that the bill was rushed by Congress, and therefore violates constitutional standards
  • Thirteen CCP  Artists awardees also decried the anti-terror law
  • Ateneo and Xavier law professors, the Ateneo Human Rights Center, Jesuit priest Albert Alejo, and the labor federation, Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa
  • Detained opposition leader Sen. Leila de Lima said that it is just another weapon for Duterte’s efforts against lawful dissent, political rivals, and our countrymen demanding accountability.
  • Edre Olalia, president of the National Union of People’s Lawyers, said that the law is “perilous, vulnerable to imminent abuses.”
  • Albay Representative Edcel Lagman warned that despite promises made by law enforcement agencies that it would not be abused, “no assurance would ensure this, as the law itself is abusive and derogatory of human rights, civil liberties, and freedoms.”

What next?  Should  the petitioners succeed in convincing the Supreme Court that indeed, the law is unconstitutional, the latter would nullify it. Both the Executive and the Legislative have said that they will respect the decision.

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