MANILA - Leaders of several organizations held an online rally Saturday to denounce the signing of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, with many expressing support for filing a plea before the Supreme Court to declare the law unconstitutional.
Among the speakers were former Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, former Commission on Human Rights Chairperson Etta Rosales, and former Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman.
In the rally, Sereno led a prayer where she narrated how victims of martial law abuses came forward during her stint as the top magistrate, seeking justice. Sereno was ousted in May 2018 through a quo warranto petition filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida.
In her prayer she said the new anti-terror law only brings back the horrors of the past, and the country could only see dark days ahead. She asked God to end suffering, which she said has afflicted Filipinos again and again.
Duterte on Friday signed the anti-terror bill into law despite concerns it might stifle basic freedoms and be used to crack down against legitimate dissent.
The law enables the establishment of a council that could order warrantless arrests of people it deems as terrorists. It also allows detention without charges for up to 24 days, which the government argues is necessary to combat long-running communist and Islamist insurgencies.
Rosales, for her part, said the law legitimizes and legalizes the suppression of human rights and degradation of democratic governance.
While many sectors of the society have registered their opposition to the bill early on, Rosales said the President refused to listen to the pulse of the masses, which only proves the real intention behind the signing of the law.
“Instead of listening to the call of the people the government has prioritized silencing the people, especially its critics. The law aims to end terrorism, it says, but it is the state forces that perpetrate fear and violence of the people,” Rosales said.
She also said that with the law, the executive branch has effectively monopolized and taken over the function of the court to identify who the terrorist is and to explain what terrorism is all about.
She narrated the alleged abuses of police which made headlines in the past, saying these are acts of terrorism.
“Terrorism is the shooting of a retired soldier suffering from a mental illness without crime or reason. Terrorism is just going through the motions of killing people on the ground especially the poor. Terrorism is bullying free press and truthful reporting. katulad ng pagtigil nila sa Rappler, sa Inquirer, at ngayon ang pagpigil nila sa ABS-CBN," Rosales said.
"Terrorism is left and right arrest of those manifesting discontent whether on social media or in the streets. An oppressive government will abuse the sweeping powers of the law. Whether they call us subversive or terrorists, the face of authoritarianism in silencing the people remains the same," she added.
Former DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman, meanwhile, urged the lawmakers who had a hand in crafting the bill to lead the move to repeal the law, which she described as a violation of the Constitution.
Soliman asserted that the bill does not solve the problems faced by the country at the moment, especially with the cases of COVID-19 still rising.
"Sa ngayong nangyayaring pandemya, sa ngayong nangyayaring kagutuman, sa ngayong nangyayari na kahirapan ng maraming mamamayan, hindi sagot itong batas na ito. Asikasuhin nila ang pangangailangan ng mamamayan. Marami pa silang dapat asikasuhin lalong-lalo na sa usapin ng kalusugan, sa usapin ng pag-ayuda sa mga nagugutom at usapin ng pagbubukas ng ekonomiya."
(While there is a pandemic, while there is hunger, while there are poor citizens, this law is no answer. Attend to the needs of the citizens. There are lots of things needed to be attended to particularly on health, financial aid for the hungry and reopening the economy.)
Human rights advocate and former senatorial candidate Samira Gutoc also slammed the government for the law that she said still does not push forward the interest of the people in conflict-stricken Marawi City, who were promised rehabilitation by the government.
“We are deeply disturbed by the lack of justice, sense of fairness, sense of compassion by a government that committed a rehabilitation program. It’s not a peace process all alone that will commit it to a genuine justice and peace. Kinailangan po ng (We need) genuine action at trust-building sa (in) security establishments na sila po ang naging responsable sa napakaraming massacres po dito sa Mindanao (where they are responsible for many massacres here in Mindanao)," Gutoc said.
Several groups on Saturday filed the first petition before the Supreme Court questioning the measure, saying it breaches the constitution. Several other lawmakers and rights groups have also vowed to file petitions against the measure before the high court.