MANILA, Philippines -- President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo?s declaration of support for the revival of the Anti-Subversion Law saw Congress and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) line up on opposite sides of the issue on Friday.
Notwithstanding Arroyo?s position, which she declared in a speech in Masbate province Thursday, members of both houses of Congress crossed party lines to voice strong opposition to the proposal.
In contrast, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), which has long been suggesting the revival of the repealed law that outlawed the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its members, proposed the passage of a similar measure that would include penalties for "actions" that favor communist rebels.
Leftist groups also railed against the proposal to revive the Anti-Subversion Law, saying it would only worsen the human rights situation in the country.
Arroyo, in a speech on Thursday, backed moves to revive the measure by incorporating some of its provisions into the anti-terror law, officially known as the Human Security Act, as proposed by Sorsogon Representative Jose Solis.
The Anti-Subversion Law, or Republic Act 1700, was repealed in September 1992, when then president Fidel Ramos signed into law Republic Act 7636. With the Anti-Subversion Law?s repeal, membership in the once-outlawed Communist Party of the Philippine became legal.
In the Senate, at least seven senators, administration and opposition, are opposed to the measure?s revival.
Senator Joker Arroyo, an administration ally, said the ?dreaded? law ?cannot be reinstated? as it failed to accomplish what it was intended for -- curb communism.
?That wretched law had caused untold suffering and torture to many innocent victims. Thus, when I was a freshman congressman, I worked hard alongside others for its repeal, among them Congressman now Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita. I don?t think he will change his mind. I will fight its revival,? said Senator Arroyo, who built a reputation as a human rights lawyer.
Senate President Manuel Villar said there was neither public clamor nor the need to ?resurrect from the dead [the] entombed? law since existing laws provided enough protection if the state finds itself besieged.
?Reviving Republic Act 1700?will be a throwback to the Jurassic era when mere membership in a group is ground for punishment when what should be sanctioned are overt illegal acts and not mere organizational affiliation,? Villar said.
The law?s revival, he added, would destroy the country?s international image of a peaceful land conducive to tourism and any move to resurrect it ?will just be blowing out of proportion the prevalence of what it may deem as subversive activities.?
Senator Manuel Roxas II noted that the proposed revival of the Anti-Subversion Law was not one of the priority measures identified during Tuesday?s Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council. He urged that focus be kept on ?health, education, and better quality of life.?
?The days of the Cold War have long ended. That we still have the longest running communist insurgency in Asia is a function of poor governance, widespread injustice, and too much corruption,? he said.
Another administration ally, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, said the ?indefensible? and ?undemocratic? proposal to revive the law would be a ?step backward? and would violate constitutionally protected rights of freedom of assembly and association.
She also predicted the measure would not make it through Congress because of the legislative branch?s sensitivity to public opinion.
Senate Minority Floor Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said reviving the law would mean ?a thousand torments for every man or woman who disagrees with her [Arroyo], demonstrates against her, or supports her political opponents.?
He said reviving the measure was intended ?to consolidate more authoritarian powers in her [Arroyo?s] hands? as he noted that the law was repealed because ?an oppressive government? could prosecute its critics through ?the very undemocratic principle of guilt by association.?
Senator Loren Legarda said licking poverty, not reviving the Anti-Subversion Law, would solve insurgency.
?The anti-subversion law had been abused and had been rightfully repealed under the Aquino administration. Let us not resurrect this monstrous law since it will just worsen the insurgency problem,? she said in a statement.
?[Such a law] would just force people?s organizations to go underground. It would further swell the ranks of those who see armed struggle as the only remaining option to effect change,? she added.
Senate Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan agreed with Legarda that poverty alleviation is the solution to insurgency. ?Tired and old methods? will not yield ?new and desired results,? he added.
In the Lower House, opposition to the law?s revival was just as strong among administration allies, with solons saying the move would effectively scuttle all efforts to forge a negotiated peace with communist rebels.
?Now that we have the peace process, maybe it's not wise that we talk about these things, because instead of accelerating peace process, the reverse might happen,? Senior House Deputy Majority Floor Leader Neptali Gonzales Jr. said.
Gonzales noted that the peace process was precisely the reason the Anti-Subversion Law was repealed. ?And what is true before is also true today,? he said.
But he doubted whether Arroyo was serious when she threw her support for the revival of the measure.
Deputy Minority Floor Leader Roilo Golez said the law?s repeal was ?irreversible.?
?We cannot ban ideology. We compete with it in the free market of ideas and prove that espousing capitalism and democracy is better for the country than being a member of the Communist Party of the Philippines, which the Anti-Subversion Law banned before 1992,? Golez said in a statement.
He also wondered why Arroyo would support the law?s revival when she did not oppose its repeal. ?How could the Arroyo administration now move for the restoration of the Anti-Subversion Law? That would be a great reversal and contradiction,? he said.
Bayan Muna Representative Satur Ocampo urged Arroyo to drop her ?mindless support? for law?s revival, saying it would only lead to ?massive warrantless arrests, search and seizures, illegal detention, and worsen the sorry state of human rights in the country.?
Muntinlupa Representative Rufino Biazon, an administration ally, echoed this fear, saying reviving the law would only offer an opportunity for abuse by authorities, which would then serve as basis for insurgents to go against the government.
?The continued insurgency is not caused by the absence of an Anti-Subversion Law but by the continued existence of poverty exacerbated by social injustice, abuse by government authorities and corruption,? he said.
But Armed Forces chief General Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said they wanted to see not just membership in the CPP but also "the actions, like when you are seen with armed groups or when you are, for example, campaigning and armed groups join you, and when your campaign materials are captured in, recovered in encounters."
"Those things should be punished, punishable under this proposed law,? he stressed, but added they were leaving the law?s revival ?to Congress. We have made known our needs so it is up to them."
Esperon said security forces needed a law "similar" to RA 1700, to arm them with a "tool in eradicating insurgency."
He said the government's counterinsurgency campaign was hampered by legal limitations that allow soldiers to go only after armed communist rebels.
"Now, even if you are already a ranking Communist Party of the Philippines member, if you are not caught with a gun or in flagrante [caught in the act], you can still get away with it," he said.
Esperon said the Human Security Act or the Anti-Terrorism Law of 2007, particularly the P500,000 penalty for every day of wrongful detention, "deprives" troops of "rapidity."
"We need some rapidity?With the prospect of being jeopardized with a fine of P500,000 a day, where do you get that? I hope there can be amendments to the Human Security Act," the military chief said.
Esperon dismissed the notion that crafting a new anti-subversion law would affect peace talks between the government and the communists.
"Not at all, in the first place, it is the duty of government to protect the democratic way of life?If indeed it is true that they [rebels] are only after political reforms, then I'm sure [that] they can go to the negotiating table," he said.
"It is different when they are after something else, and that is [the] overthrow of the democratic government?If they say they are only after reforms, then we can talk," he said.
Esperon also reiterated his proposal for a three-year ceasefire with the NPA, saying without a ceasefire it is "useless" to revive peace negotiations, which have been stalled since August 2004.
But leftist groups, who have lost hundreds of members in a wave of extrajudicial killings, said reviving the law would only lead to more human rights violations.
"It is a Jurassic step backwards, violates the basic right to due process and association, and will embolden more arbitrary arrests," Edre Olalia, head of the International Association of People's Lawyers (IAPL), said in a text message.
The move will also trample on the bill of rights and international humanitarian law, he added.
The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP, Peasant Movement of the Philippines) accused Arroyo of insincerity in seeking peace with communist rebels.
"While Gloria [Arroyo] is talking about declaring a yuletide ceasefire and supposedly preparing for the resumption of the peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines [NDFP], now she is also working to further persecute those that supposedly she is extending her reconciliatory hand to. To any layman it is obvious that the Macapagal-Arroyo regime is a clear backstabber and not in the least sincere in talking peace," KMP chairman Rafael Mariano said.
?To any layman it is obvious that the Macapagal-Arroyo regime is a clear backstabber and not in the least sincere in talking peace,? Mariano said.
"Besides if the Armed Forces of the Philippines [AFP] is so confident that the communist movement would be inconsequential by 2009, why re-impose this law? Or [is it] as [is] often the case, the military is just boasting and the opposite is true?" he asked.