MANILA — Former Philippine Vice President Jejomar Binay on Friday led a lawyers' group's "caravan protest" against the Anti-Terrorism Bill, citing dangerous provisions in the measure.
"I'm opposing the Anti-Terror Bill. I feel it's unconstitutional," Binay said.
"Nakakatakot naman 'yun eh. Basta-basta ka na lang icha-charge na ikaw ay terorista," he explained, referring to provisions in the anti-terrorism measure which authorizes a council composed of executive officials to identify who can be considered terrorists.
(It's frightening. They can just charge you for terrorism.)
It is a rare public appearance for the former Vice President, a human rights lawyer who was among those who opposed the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos' martial rule.
Drawing widespread criticism, the anti-terror bill, which President Rodrigo Duterte certified as urgent, authorizes warrantless arrests and continued detention for up to 24 days even without charges. The Philippine Constitution only provides for a maximum of 3 days of detention if without charges.
Congress transmitted the bill to Malacañang earlier this week.
Binay is part of a coalition of human rights lawyers called Concerned Lawyers for Civil Liberties (CLCL) which has expressed strong opposition to the bill.
A convoy of about a dozen vehicles left the University of the Philippines in Quezon City just before 9 a.m. Friday for the group's protest action at the Supreme Court, held amid commemoration of Philippine Independence Day.
"The bill broadens the definition of terrorism, and accordingly, strengthens the powers of the executive in running after “suspected” terrorists. In effect, the executive, citing even wild theories and vagaries, can extensively target personalities and groups with color and force of law – something it has already been doing, but under less restricted circumstances," CLCL said in an earlier statement.
"There are no safeguards," Binay's co-convenor, former lawmaker Neri Colmenares of the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers, said during the protest.
He pointed out that although section 4 of the bill excludes protests from being considered acts of terrorism, an exception was included: acts "which are not intended to cause death or serious physical harm to a person, to endanger a person's life, or to create a serious risk to public safety.
"It goes back to the government eh. Sila ang nag-i-interpret kung anong intensyon mo eh (They can interpret your intent). Look at this Anti Terror Bill -- it penalizes intention. Any act intended to interfere with critical infrastructure – eh 'yung batas dapat pine-penalize yung act, ito intensyon (A law should be penalizing an act, but this penalizes intent)," he said.
"So ito kahit hindi ka nagbomba, 'pag sinabi ng gobyerno na may intensyon kang magbomba, 24 days kang maximum makukulong, wala kang kaso. So dangerous talaga ito lalo na marami namang ordinaryong mamamayan na *nagpoprotesta ngayon," Colmenares explained.
(So here, even if you did not commit a bombing, when government says you have intent, you can be held for up to 24 days without charge. So it's dangerous especially that many ordinary Filipinos are protesting these days.)
"Kahit anong assurance ng authors na ang Anti-Terror Law eh hindi naman sasakupin 'yan ang protesta pero klaro sa mga ginawa nila the past few days, nagpo-protesta ang mga driver, 'yung mga estudyante hinuhuli nila, wala pang new terror law 'yan ah. Ganun na sila mag-interpret ng protesta," he added, referring to recent arrests of jeepney drivers in Caloocan and students in Cebu who held protests.
(No matter the assurances of authors of the anti-terror law that they won't penalize protests, it's clear with their acts in the past few days, drivers, students who protest, they arrest, and the anti-terror bill is not even a law yet. That's how they interpret protests.)
Colmenares said the government should instead prioritize addressing the coronavirus pandemic which, he said, is more important for the Filipino people.
"President Duterte should look at dissent as a feedback mechanism. Na hindi pala nade-deliver 'yung services, so ayusin natin (that public services were not delivered so we should fix it), he should not look at dissent and protest as an illegal act, a terror act... Walang ayuda, kulang ang ayuda. Paano na kami ngayon (there is no aid, it's not enough. What about us)?," he said.
The former lawmaker scored the government for prohibiting protests by invoking quarantine measures which do not allow mass gatherings. He said such activity may still be done as long as participants observe physical distancing and follow health standards.
"Kaya illegal o arbitrary ang anumang arrest ng mga pulis ngayon dahil walang batayan sa batas," he said.
(That's why it's illegal or arbitrary for police to make arrests in protests because this has no basis in law.)
Colmenares said they will question before the Supreme Court the anti-terrorism measure once it becomes a law.
"We are preparing the petition. And we hope ang Korte Suprema, sa ilalim ng Constitution (the Supreme Court, udner the Constitution), they are supposed to protect constitutional rights. So sana tindigan ng Korte Suprema ang constitutional rights ng mamamayan (We hope the Supreme Court stands for the people's constitutional rights)," he said.
First formed in 2006 to oppose allegedly unconstitutional policies of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, CLCL is a broad coalition of lawyers and law students revived in September last year.
It is composed of groups like the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers, Free Legal Assistance Group, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and the Alternative Lawyers' Group. Binay belongs to Artikulo Tres.