Basilan lawmaker wary of Anti-Terror Bill, worries for Muslims getting tagged as terrorists

Aleta Nieva-Nishimori, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 05 2020 03:23 PM | Updated as of Jun 05 2020 04:18 PM

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MANILA - A lawmaker from Mindanao on Friday expressed reservations about the new Anti-Terror Bill, as he lamented that some people immediately equate terrorism to Islam. 

"Remember, every time may bombing incidents here in Mindanao, even in Metro Manila and other parts of the country, ang laging pinupuntirya o laging iniisip ng ating kababayan or even law enforcers Muslim ang may kagagawan nito. So medyo worried ako dito. Yung definition ng terrorism very vague kaya yun ang nakakatakot sa panukalang ito," House Deputy Speaker Mujiv Hataman said in an interview on ANC's Matters of Fact .

(Remember, every time there's a bombing incident in Mindanao or even in Metro Manila, some people, even law enforcers, immediately think a Muslim is behind it. I am worried. The definition of terrorism is very vague, that's why this bill is scary.) 

Hataman said the anti-terror bill may also be not the right approach in combatting terrorism because the bill's stringent and repressive policies might even push people to join terrorist groups.

Critics have called out the proposed legislation which they said violate basic rights.

"Habang inaapi mo ang tao, habang pinapahirapan mo, inaabuso mo, wala siyang ibang option ma-push siya to the wall, anong gagawin niya? Ako, I agree, wala akong question sa intent ng law pero talagang meron akong problema sa ilang policies provided in the law," House Deputy Speaker Mujiv Hataman said.

On ANC's Matters of Fact, Hataman stressed the need to focus on prevention, and not on the punitive aspect of the law. 

"Ang tingin ko, we have more than enough laws that are punitive. Sa tingin ko, mas effective pa rin yung local security forces in close coordination with civil society organization and the local government unit yung pag-involve sa mga Ulama," he said. 

Hataman said he manifested during the hearing on House Bill 6875 that experts, including from the Muslim community, be invited to share their views on the matter.

"Definitely, andyan ang threat ng terrorism habang meron pang bilang sa kanila. Pero ang tanong dito paano natin ma-counter na pang-prevent na ma-expand sila, at the same time, paano mahimok natin silang bumalik at makipagtulungan sa pamahalaan," he said.

The lawmaker representing Basilan also that even without the application of the Human Security Act of 2007, they were able to slowly address the number and capacity of terrorist groups in the province.

"Talagang humina ang Abu Sayyaf not because of any national policy but because of the local collaboration between the security sector, local government units, and the communities themselves," he said.

The House of Representatives on Wednesday approved on third and final reading the controversial House Bill 6875, which seeks to amend the Philippines' current anti-terrorism laws. The bill was passed during the lower chamber's session on Wednesday, with 168 House members voting yes, 36 voting no, and 29 abstentions.

"Hindi sa ayaw nating matuldukan ang terorismo pero baka kailangan nating pag-usapan kung anong tamang policy o approach sa pag-address ng problema ng terorista," he said.

(It's not that we don't want to address terrorism, but we need to discuss the rightful policy or approach when dealing with terrorism.)

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If it becomes a law, the government can wiretap suspects, arrest them without warrants and hold them without charge for 14 days, among other provisions. 

The bill also removes the provision that penalizes law enforcers with a payment of P500,000 in damages per day of detention of any person acquitted of terrorism charges.

Hataman also raised the possibility that the Anti-Terrorism Council may be politicized as its members are political appointees.

"Hindi ko sinasabing ngayon ito or in the future bagong administration, biglang merong kalaban sa pulitika, mga apprehensions, biglang galit sa isa. Ang magde-determine ngayon kung i-tag silang terrorista o hindi ay ATC. Ang tingin ko, maganda na rin yung Human Security Act of 2007 at least korte ang mag-tag o mag-proscribe kung sino tatawagin dapat terorista individual man o organization," he said.

Malacanang allayed fears that the proposed bill, which President Rodrigo Duterte certified as urgent, would infringe on the right to freedom of expression and pave the way for a crackdown on government critics.