On June 1, President Rodrigo Duterte has certified as urgent the passing of a new anti-terrorism bill that seeks to repeal Republic Act No. 9372 or the Human Security Act (HSA) of 2007. Lawmakers in the Duterte-controlled House of Representatives immediately passed House Bill 6875 on June 3 copying Senate Bill 1083 passed in February. The President has until July 9 to decide whether he will veto it or let it become a law.

While the proponents of the bill and the security officials kept allaying fears that it will not be used to attack dissenter, leftists, and activists, the “vague” provisions to the definition of terrorism and terrorist acts say otherwise.

The amended version of terrorism under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 include acts and/or threatens to commit acts that may cause the death or injury of a person, damage, and destruction of government facilities and critical infrastructure to create and spread a message of fear and cause the destabilization of the government.

The act allows law enforcers to conduct surveillance, freeze bank accounts, warrantless arrests, and detention for more than three days up to 24 days. The Anti-Terrorism Council, a group of cabinet secretaries and the security sector (none from the judiciary) appointed by the President, can order for your arrest and can even request that your organization and certain persons be proscribed as terrorists.

The act also included activities that could incite terrorism through speeches, proclamations, writings, banners, and emblems.

What incites a person to do a terrorist act? We don’t know. But for the government, it can be anything that they deem will undermine the government’s ability to lead (read: criticizing government policies). It can be through a simple media report or sharing of Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter posts.

The amended version removed safeguards such as subjecting law enforcers to a fine of P500,000 (US $9,800) for each day they wrongfully detain a terrorism suspect. This was the safeguard in the original anti-terror act, the HSA of 2007, which has limited law enforcers to use the law against terrorists.

One of the proponents of the new anti-terror bill, Senator Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa, admitted letting go of a known ISIS terrorist when he was still the police chief in Davao City in 2012 due to the limitations posed by HSA 2007.

However, these law enforcers were not afraid to use it against leaders of indigenous peoples tribes and peoples organizations.

On March 21, 2008, Aeta peasant leader Edgar Candule was arrested without a warrant in Botolan, Zambales, and charged with terrorism allegedly for carrying a firearm and possession of subversive documents. He was detained for two years until the Regional Trial Court of Zambales dismissed the charges on October 20, 2010. The court, however, did not push the local enforcers to pay the fine of up to P470 million.

Two known leaders of progressive organizations in Northern Mindanao were also victims of HSA 2007. Jomorito Goaynon of the Lumad group Kalumbay and Ireneo Udarbe, leader of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, were arrested on January 28, 2019, at a military checkpoint near the 4th Infantry Division headquarters in Cagayan de Oro City.

Both were charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosive, violation of the election gun ban, rebellion, and violations of the HSA. The local court dismissed the charges including HSA, but was also silent on the compensation.

Terror-tagging and attack on human rights defenders

Based on his latest pronouncement, Pres. Rodrigo Duterte aims to end the communists through the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020. He regards the latter, whom he called the “high-value targets,” the number one threat as opposed to the “Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) nor the terrorists of no value.”

Terror-tagging legitimate organizations have been Pres. Duterte’s favorite since he decided to scrap the peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines in 2017 and soon after issued a proclamation declaring the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New Peoples’ Army (NPA) as terrorist organizations.

In the same year, he also revived an inter-agency composed of the military and the police who was in charge of filing trumped-up charges against human rights defenders, peoples’ organizations, and their leaders.

In March 2018, the Department of Justice filed the petition to declare CPP-NPA as a terrorist organization but added 656 individuals as terrorists, including a United Nations Special Rapporteur for indigenous people, former Bayan Muna Representative Satur Ocampo, leaders of peoples organizations, and leaders of indigenous peoples communities.

In December 2018, Pres. Duterte created the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC). Since last year, the NTF-ELCAC has been responsible for the intensified red-tagging of legitimate organizations, including Suara Bangsamoro and other indigenous peoples organizations. According to Karapatan, there were at least 245 legitimate organizations that were red-tagged, facing threats, intimidation, and harassment, including my organization Suara Bangsamoro.

Terror tagging human rights defenders and people’s organizations had already taken a toll on activists. Under the Duterte administration, Karapatan reported that there were 308 cases of extra-judicial killings and 439 frustrated killings of human rights defenders, most of them peasant, environmental, and indigenous leaders. More than 3,000 human rights defenders have been charged with trumped-up charges, with 619 of them detained.

Young Moro leaders and human rights defenders have no escape in Pres. Duterte’s terror-tagging. Among them are two leaders who led massive rallies in Mindanao and Manila condemning the human rights violations that resulted from Pres. Duterte’s declaration of Martial Law in Mindanao on May 23, 2017.

Jerome Aladdin Succor Aba, the current chair of Suara Bangsamoro, came from a big clan in Maguindanao and started his activism as a student leader at Notre Dame College in Cotabato City. Meanwhile, Aida Ibrahim, the national coordinator of Tindeg Ranao, an organization of Marawi City evacuees, graduated from Mindanao State University-Marawi and was a known student leader.

They were invited to different forums here and abroad to give testimony to human rights violations against the Moro people. Among these were invitations to lobby government representatives to the 39th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council in September 2018 in Geneva and to participate in the International Peoples Tribunal on the Philippines in Brussels in the same month.

In March 2019, Aida was included among the 468 individuals and human rights defenders charged with fabricated criminal complaints including kidnapping, murder, and arson, filed at the Provincial Prosecutor’s Office in Bayugan City, Agusan del Sur. Her name was among those listed in leaflets, distributed in the cities of Iligan and Cagayan de Oro City, which tagged journalists, religious leaders, lawyers, and doctors, as well as leaders of peoples organizations as terrorists.

On April 17, 2019, Jerome was arrested, tortured, and detained for 28 hours at the San Francisco International Airport by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents. The CBP claimed they denied him entry due to questions in his visa. But the 28-hour interrogation and incommunicado Jerome suffered at the hands of CBP and Homeland Security was mostly about his involvement in the movement criticizing Duterte’s policy.

Jerome and Aida are among the many Moro young leaders who were terror-tagged by the Philippine government. In 2007, the names of two Moro women leaders from my group Suara Bangsamoro and the Moro human rights group Kawagib were printed in rice sacks with the words “sosyalestang-teroresta” (socialist-terrorist) and posted along the highway connecting Cotabato City to Midsayap, North Cotabato.

Are the Moro people still the usual suspects?

For fellow Bangsamoros, who have been the poster boys and girls of the Philippine government’s two decades of anti-terror campaign, Muslims may very well likely be the targets of this anti-terror drive.

A group of Bangsamoro lawyers and law students expressed their disapproval of the anti-terror bill fearing that Muslim religious activities such as congregational prayers, khutbahs (sermons), or other religious gatherings may fall under the government’s category of “inciting to terrorist acts.”

In the three months of national lockdown in response to the COVID-19 (new Coronavirus Disease) pandemic, we have seen how this government criminalized a simple shoutout on Facebook or how ordinary citizens became criminals because they violated curfew and lockdown guidelines, subjecting them to fines or undetermined days of detention.

Ms. Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, the special rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms while Countering Terrorism, warned the Philippine government, in an online forum with EcuVoice, of misusing anti-terror legislations and that it could lead to curtailment of freedom of expression.

You would think that the way the government had been using the Marawi siege as the basis for the necessity of the anti-terror bill is that they will use it against UN and US-designated terrorists.

The previous and current administrations have been using the “Moro terrorist” bogey to create a condition for the necessity of the anti-terror bill measure. Just look at the recent incident in Paranaque last week, about a shootout with ASG terrorist right in Metro Manila.

But the way this government defined what constitutes a “terrorist act” in the new anti-terror bill, the government is after those who criticize his policies – political rivals, critics, leftists, dissenters, and ordinary citizens – venting their angst in mainstream and social media on the government’s negligence and shortcomings in confronting the COVID-19 pandemic. (Amira Ali Lidasan/davaotoday.com)

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