MANILA, Philippines--ANGER and outrage met President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's announcement on Thursday that she was prepared to support the planned revival of the long-dead Anti-Subversion Law to subdue the communist insurgency.
Even administration stalwart Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago was not thrilled by the President's announcement, saying the Anti-Subversion Law had been deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court because of its limiting effect on the freedoms of speech and of assembly.
Rafael Mariano, chairman of the militant farmers alliance Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), said Friday the people should unite against "this new attack on civil liberties disguised as an anticommunist campaign."
Mariano said it was "an old trick employed in the 1950s and '60s" that ultimately became "a failure in stopping the mass movement from striving for real democracy, justice and freedom."
Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo, a victim of human rights abuses during Ferdinand Marcos' dictatorship, described the planned revival of the law as "a throwback to martial law" that would "worsen the state of human rights in the country."
Edre Olalia, president of the International Association of People's Lawyers, said it was "a Jurassic legal step backward."
"It is simply Cold War McCarthyism," Olalia told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in a text message, referring to the infamous US Sen. Joseph McCarthy's campaign to flush out communists and their sympathizers during the Cold War era.
"That is a step backward. The language is so vague that it could be justifiably accused of unconstitutional infringement of the freedom of assembly and association. Just because you are a member of a party does not mean that you are guilty of whatever some members have committed. That would be guilt by association, which has already been rejected by our Supreme Court," said Santiago, a former judge and the Philippines' nominee to the Geneva-based International Court of Justice.
Under Republic Act No. 1700, or the Anti-Subversion Law, membership in such organizations as the Communist Party of the Philippines was a crime. It was repealed in 1992 through RA 7636, thus making the CPP a legal group.
Olalia warned the public that a revival of RA 1700--which Sorsogon Rep. Jose Solis, a former law enforcer and a staunch supporter of Ms Arroyo, plans to seek--would violate the basic rights to due process and association and lead to more arbitrary arrests.
Said Ocampo in a statement: "Reviving it is pointless, stupid even. Mrs. Arroyo ought to rethink her mindless support for [Solis' planned measure], which the dictator Marcos used to arrest and detain tens of thousands without charges under martial law."
The party-list lawmaker said the President had made a "180-degree turn" in her position on human rights.
He said that while Ms Arroyo vowed to work for "zero political violence" only on Wednesday at the Human Rights Day celebration in Malacañang, she threw her support behind the planned revival of the Anti-Subversion Law 24 hours later.
Ms Arroyo had said she would use the measure in her avowed goal of crushing the decades-old communist insurgency by the time her term ends in 2010.
But Ocampo pointed out that the law had failed to stop the communist insurgency.
Sensitive to opinion
He added: "Mrs. Arroyo will fail because she refuses to recognize the legitimate aspirations of the revolutionaries, whom she derisively calls 'terrorists.'
"Now she wants to tag them again as 'subversives' and wants to revive the law against them."
Senator Santiago does not expect the proposed revival of RA 1700 to gain much support in the Senate.
"Considering that the Senate is opposition-dominated, plus because of the constitutional issues that [the plan] raises, I don't think it would gain any ground in the Senate, or even in the House," Santiago said.
"These two chambers of the legislature are very sensitive to public opinion, and I think it is indefensible to be able to arrest and prosecute a person just because he or she is a member of a political group. That is antidemocratic," she said.
Sen. Loren Legarda said reviving the Anti-Subversion Law would only worsen the insurgency problem:
"[It] will just force people's organizations to go underground. It will further swell the ranks of those who see armed struggle as the only remaining option to effect change.
"Such a law has no place in a democracy. It can lead to draconian, inquisition-type actions by the government, which could worsen the climate of impunity that has led to a big number of political killings and disappearances."
Sen. Mar Roxas said reviving RA 1700 would "turn the hands of time to an era where might is right, and freedom is defined, not by one's ability to think and act freely, but by espousing only the ideas and actions most acceptable to the powers that be."
Make do with HSA
"That we have the longest running communist insurgency in Asia is a function of poor governance, widespread injustice, and too much corruption," Roxas said.
Senate President Manuel Villar said the Arroyo administration should just make do with current laws, such as the Human Security Act (HSA), or antiterror law.
"Reviving RA 1700 is retrogressive. It is like going back to the primitive years when we label people as 'communists' and 'insurgents,'" Villar said.
"If it was repealed at a time when insurgent forces were more numerous and more influential than they are today, there is no reason to bring back to life this law against a group that the government itself claims is near death," he said.
According to Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr., the only reason Ms Arroyo is thinking of reviving the law is to "consolidate" more authoritarian power.
"In her hands, the law, once revived, could mean a thousand torments for every man or woman who disagrees with her, demonstrates against her, or supports her political opponents," Pimentel said.
Poverty, social injustice
At the House, Muntinlupa Rep. Rufino Rozzano Biazon said another law penalizing dissenters for their political views would only give them reason to become armed insurgents.
"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," Biazon, a vice chair of the House committee on national defense, added in a text message.
The militant labor alliance Kilusang Mayo Uno, through its chair Elmer Labog, said Ms Arroyo should not "resurrect a corpse."
"It seems the President and Congressman Solis want a return to the Stone Age by turning back on democracy. What they want is for the barbarism of dictatorship to reign in Philippine society," Labog said.
Survival game plan
Fernando Hicap, national chair of the fisherfolk group Pamalakaya, said the planned revival of the Anti-Subversion Law was part of the Arroyo administration's "survival game plan."
"She is endorsing this shotgun piece of legislation to justify the extrajudicial killings and massive persecution of political foes and critics exposing her crimes against the Filipino people, and against those championing the cause of truth and justice in the country," Hicap said.