OPINION: Why we can’t believe platitudes proffered for new anti-terror law

Inday Espina-Varona

Posted at Jun 03 2020 06:34 PM

When President Rodrigo Duterte and his apologists tut-tut and sneer that only terrorists need to fear the proposed new anti-terror law, the easiest answer is “Drug War”.

Close to 6,000 have died in police operations over the last four years. Triple that number have died in the hands of unknown assailants, whom then national police chief Ronald dela Rosa implied were doing the government a favor.

“Kung gusto man nilang gawin, gawin na lang nila, 'wag na lang nilang ipaalam sa akin,” he told ABS-CBN News in 2016. 

The total absence of due process, state efforts to block probes, the intimidation of families seeking justice, and Duterte’s repeated pledges to protect police from accountability highlight the four-year program against suspected drug users and dealers.

There is little reason to believe the planned program against “terrorists” will be any different.

The Philippines has constitutional and other legal safeguards. But we also have a government that refuses to respect these and goes after every person or group, here and abroad, that tries to work for accountability.

Track record

There is no reason to believe that Duterte’s way – killing as chief problem-solving measure – will stop even as the country’s jails, publicly acknowledged or hidden from registries, fill up with folk who refuse to meekly follow an autocratic leader.

Even a pandemic couldn’t stop killings related to drugs, whether these had official sanction or were subcontracted to armed men whom cops could not or would not track while they arrested people trying to help others survive our hunger games.

Even a pandemic couldn’t stop the military from adding seven more names to the list of around 250 activists killed since Duterte assumed office.

If anything, the government used the COVID-19 lockdown as one more reason to hound critics. It imposed isolation on Sen. Leila de Lima. It arrested individuals and groups authorized to provide relief, simply because they publicly expressed opposition to government quarantine policies.
 
The latter continues amid the chaos of the general community quarantine, with officials blaming citizens for the state’s inability to protect taxpayers even with a huge budget from Congress. Those who protest are, as usual, thrown into jail.

With that track record, why believe that only terrorists should fear the proposed law?

Targets

There are already enough laws and enough investments and foreign contributions in state security systems, equipment, and personnel to go after armed rebel groups in the country.

You don’t need to steal documents or consult a crystal globe to know the anti-terror measure’s real targets. 

This government sees Red with every controversy that stirs public anger, whether it stems from rising extra-judicial killings, the ouster of a Supreme Court Chief Justice, the corruption of Duterte’s men, allegations of his hidden wealth, a crackdown on press freedom as in the case of ABS-CBN’s closure or cases faced by the news outfit Rappler, or the dearth in lockdown social aid and the chaos stirred up by those Cabinet generals who supposedly are the only managers worthy of trust in the country.

This government will also concoct any conspiracy to punish people for protests or to deflect attention from emerging scandals, especially when these involve China gobbling up more parts of our seas or when a new class of cronies are offered cushy deals.

The proposed anti-terror law will only cement these tendencies.

It blocks judicial oversight, allowing the military and the police to hold suspects for 24 days with no court intervention possible. A nine-member anti-terrorism council will have sole discretion in tagging persons and groups as "terrorists".

“In effect, the executive, citing even wild theories and vagaries, can extensively target personalities and groups with color and force of law,’ warns the Concerned Lawyers for Civil Liberties (CLCL). 
 
The leaders of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NELCAC) are certain to occupy seats in the anti-terror council – called a de facto junta by critics of government. 

Duterte – with his wild attacks against De Lima and Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, and “The Matrix” rolled out by his boys – and the NELCAC provide the best examples of what the CLCL calls “wild theories and vagaries”. 

The latter hurls lie after lie tagging church workers, rights defenders, peasant leaders, legislators and journalists as legal “fronts” of “communist terrorists”.

The anti-terror law gives them the license to act on these mad fantasies.

These are the who’s, the what’s, the how’s of the issue. “Why” is an even more interesting topic and will be tackled in the next blog.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.