CBCP calls for prayers for Philippines and other Asian countries with similar Anti-terror law concerns

Published July 19, 2020, 11:09 AM

by Leslie Ann Aquino

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has sought prayers for the country alarmed by the newly signed Anti-Terror Act of 2020. 

The CBCP led by its acting president Caloocan Bishop Pablo David has asked Charles Cardinal Maung Bo, Archbishop of Yangon, Myanmar and President of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences to also pray for the Philippines saying the country is seriously in need of prayers like the people of Hongkong.  

According to the bishops, Cardinal Bo wrote to them to request for prayers for Hongkong, on account of the signing into law of a new National Security Act.

“He explained in his letter how this new law poses a threat to the basic freedoms and human rights of the people of Hongkong, and how it potentially undermines especially their freedom of expression,” the CBCP said in a pastoral letter and a call to prayer released Saturday (July 18).

“While we responded with an assurance to His Eminence, Cardinal Bo, that we would join him in praying for the people of Hongkong, we also asked him to pray for the Philippines and explained why we are as seriously in need of prayers as the people of Hongkong.  Like them, we are also alarmed about the recent signing into law of the Anti-Terror Act of 2020,” the bishops added.

The CBCP expressed disbelief about the manner in which the contentious Anti-Terror Bill was fast-tracked and approved in both Houses of Congress while the whole country’s attention was focused on the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The dissenting voices were strong but they remained unheeded,” read the CBCP pastoral letter.

It said legal experts and constitutionalists in the country are seriously concerned that the newly signed law has many elements that are “oppressive and inconsistent with our Constitution” and how it poses a “serious threat to the fundamental freedoms of all peaceful Filipinos.”

And yet, the CBCP said, the people in government and their allies dismissed these fears as “unfounded.”

“The assurance that they give sounds strangely parallel to that which the Chinese government gave to the people of Hongkong: ‘Activism is not terrorism. You have no reason to be afraid if you are not terrorists.'” said the bishops.

“We know full well that it is one thing to be actually involved in a crime and another thing to be merely suspected or accused of committing a crime,” the CBCP added.

The CBCP reminded people of the dubious manner in which advocates and the likes were falsely accused of terrorism while others ended up being killed under mysterious circumstances.

“Have we not heard of people active in social advocacies who are accused of being communists?  Have we forgotten the bishops, priests and religious who were included among those falsely charged by the Philippine National Police with crimes of sedition and inciting to sedition?  

“Senator Leila de Lima who continues to languish in jail, also on the basis of mere allegations?  Have we not heard of media personalities being harassed by a multitude of criminal charges?  Have we not felt the chilling effect of the closure of the country’s biggest broadcast network, the ABS-CBN, after being denied renewal of its franchise?,” added the statement.

While a semblance of democracy is still in place and our democratic institutions somehow continue to function, the CBCP said we are already like the “proverbial frog swimming in a pot of slowly boiling water.”

The bishops said the return of “warrantless detentions” through this new law cannot but remind us of the initial moves in 1972 that eventually led to the fall of democracy and the rise of a dictatorial regime that terrorized the country for fourteen years.  

The bishops said they continue to draw encouragement from the belief that in various government agencies we still have many people of good will whose hearts are in the right places, and who remain objective and independent minded.  

“We have nothing but admiration for these public servants in all branches of government who do only as conscience dictates and do not allow themselves to be intimidated or prevented by political pressure from performing their constitutionally mandated duties,” the CBCP said.

It added:” We can only wish that there would be more of them.”