Anti-Terrorism Bill Silences Dissent, Curtails Democratic Rights

June 12, 2020

by Educators' Forum for Development

The rights and freedoms enshrined in the 1987 Philippine Constitution are a result of the Filipino people’s struggles. As we celebrate our 122nd Independence Day, we acknowledge the continuing heritage of protests and revolts that shape our country.

Thus, amid the current challenges facing Filipino educators nationwide, we cannot simply stay silent or neutral as more and more Filipinos call for the junking of the Anti-Terrorism Bill. Not just our but our children’s and students’ rights and freedoms are at stake. We stand in unison in opposing a more draconian version of the Human Security of Act of 2007 and in defending the values and principles that our ancestors have fought for.

In particular, we challenge the President to take the high ground and veto the Anti-Terrorism Bill, especially amid the ongoing health and humanitarian crisis brought by COVID-19 and an impending economic recession.

We are aware of counter-protest voices who say that law-abiding and responsible Filipino citizens need not worry about the Anti-Terrorism Law since it is intended only for terrorists and those who threaten peace and order and national security.

But as teachers and as Filipino citizens, we are also aware how law-abiding and responsible Filipino citizens are branded by authorities as “terrorists” and threats to public safety because they decide to exercise their rights and freedoms to air grievances, call out actions on government inefficiencies, and express political stands based on their experiences and contexts. To be law-abiding and responsible is to essentially love your country by exercising your rights and freedoms especially to decry injustice, deception and abuses of power.

Our ancestors have sacrificed hugely to fight for the democracy and independence our nation deserves, to be enjoyed by all Filipinos, whether they are supportive of a current administration or are critical of it.

But with terrorism being used as a pretext, our lawmakers have crafted a new bill that broadens who can be declared a terrorist and lets an unaccountable executive body decide and act on this without due process. Anybody can be arrested on mere suspicion alone, or the perception of “intent.” The exercise of constitutional rights such as free speech and assembly can be considered as terrorist acts.

We see through the pretext and understand that the bill targets unrelenting government critics with harassment, surveillance, warrantless arrests and detention – all these while some government officials are being excused from following their very own policies and laws.

It is ironic that an administration fixated on a more draconian law against “terrorism” itself remains answerable to the people for its own acts of terrorism – in its costly war on drugs that has left mostly poor individuals dead, in its attacks on Lumad communities fighting for their ancestral land and right to education, in its treatment of media institutions critical of its policies, and even in the violent pronouncements of the President on State-sponsored rights violations against certain sectors and civil society.

Achieving genuine peace and order and national security does not require a new law infringing on the people’s rights and freedoms. What is needed is to strengthen our institutions and to effectively implement programs that respond to the needs of communities and not of a few.

On this day June 12th, we again celebrate the declaration of Philippine independence in 1898. It was not a product of an anti-terror law or conservative local forces staying silent or conniving with the oppressors. It was a result of Filipinos staking their lives through struggle so future Filipinos will not live under repression. They began the revolution by speaking out despite huge odds, and bravely fighting for the country’s freedom. Such heroism is what an anti-terror law will destroy.