MANILA — Mindanao-based organizations on Tuesday launched a citizen’s monitoring group to closely watch the implementation of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) in the country's south.
Calling themselves “ALISTO!” or alert, the coalition is composed of 20 civil society organizations and rights groups based in various parts of Mindanao, which previously led efforts to monitor the implementation of martial law in the island.
Among their members are Saligan-Mindanaw, Ateneo Public Interest & Legal Advocacy (APILA) and Task Force Detainees of the Philipines based in Davao, Balao Mindanaw in Northern Mindanao, Union of Peoples Lawyers in Mindanao based in Caraga, as well as other organizations based in the BARMM, Soccsksargen, Zamboanga and BaSulTa regions.
“Proclamation No. 216 that subjected Mindanao to martial law beginning 23 May 2017 may have ended in December of 2019 after two and a half years of implementation. But the threats of red-tagging, terrorist-tagging, red-baiting, and racial profiling, especially of indigenous peoples, Bangsamoro, and human rights defenders, remain very evident and have become even more imminent with the signing of Republic Act 11479 or the Anti-Terror Act of 2020 (ATA) by President Duterte last 3 July 2020,” said Mags Maglana of Konsensya Dabaw, one of the group’s spokespersons during the group’s online forum Tuesday.
BALAOD Mindanaw, one of the member organizations, said they recorded at least 290 cases of extrajudicial killings, torture, disappearance, rape, illegal arrests and detention, and displacements during the 2-and-a-half-year period that martial law was in effect in the island.
In his SONA last July, President Rodrigo Duterte said that Martial Law in Mindanao ended without abuses committed by government forces.
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ALISTO! said the conditions are more “worrisome” with the implementation of the anti-terror law, which Duterte signed last July 3.
“Mas nakakatakot ang ATA e. Kasi talagang karamihan dun sa mga safeguards na inaasahan natin, inalis,” Maglana said, referring to provisions under the Human Security Act (HSA) that were removed when the ATA was passed as its replacement.
(The ATA is scarier, because most of the safeguards that we were relying on were removed.)
Among these is the requirement under the HSA for authorities to seek permission from either the courts or the Commission on Human Rights to detain a suspected terrorist beyond 3 days. Instead, the ATA allows an extended detention period of up to 24 days if the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) has given written authority.
The ATC, Maglana said, is now “emboldened” with authority to by-pass courts in authorizing arrests, and the law has done away with actual injury or death as a requirement for the commission of terrorism because “the intention to do so can already be grounds to be pursued under the ATA.”
She also cited the 90-day period for surveillance under the ATA.
“Being under surveillance is a very threatening situation. The fact that it is now extended and that it can take on different forms, makes the conditions of ATA more worrisome than it was under martial law under the previous proclamation,” she said.
“We think that ATA presents a very real threat not only to Mindanaoans of course but also to the rest of the Filipinos. Kaya lang mas matindi sa Mindanao kasi alam naman natin na kahit na…meron nang Bangsamoro region ngayon, pero the conditions on the ground concerning rights and peace, di pa rin siya nababago,” she explained.
“In that mix, the Anti-Terrorism Act is an explosive device that can only harm Mindanaoans and can affect the fragility of peace in the entire country.”
ALISTO! said it aims to provide a platform for citizens to engage the government to ensure accountability and compliance with human rights standards and rule of law.
But it will also offer paralegal, legal, documentation, psychosocial, and other relevant services, whether directly or through referral, to those whose rights have been violated.
“Once we are able to reach out to the victim or the caller, if shelter is needed, we take them in some of our shelters provided by our partner-organizations. And that’s how we’re able to ensure the security of our witnesses or the complainants if really, there is a need to provide shelter for them,” lawyer Romeo Cabarde, Jr. of APILA said.
The group said they will also take part in protest actions against rights abuses, historical revisionism and return to dictatorship.
Cabarde and other lawyers who are part of ALISTO! like Dean Manuel Quibod of the Ateneo de Davao Law School, serve as lawyers to 5 Mindanaoan petitioners who challenged the ATA before the Supreme Court.
The high court has set oral arguments on the 37 petitions questioning the constitutionality of the ATA on January 19, 2021.
Maglana likens the ATA to a “bukag” or “buslo,” a woven basket made of bamboo.
“The ATA may be handy as a catchall for law enforcers. But like the bukag, it is perforated with many buslot - holes that further endanger our fundamental freedoms and liberties. Being the Constitution's guardian, the Supreme Court must ensure the supremacy of the guaranteed rights enshrined in its sacred texts,” Maglana said.
ALISTO! said it accepts reports of violations and abuses through its hotlines 0995-715-8606 (Globe) and 0961-710-8191 (Smart), through its Facebook account alistomindanao, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.