Mindanao groups, familiar with terrorism, plead to Duterte as Mindanaoan: Veto terror bill
CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY—The pealing of bells at the Saint Augustine Cathedral here at noon on Friday (June 12) took on a new meaning—a cry to stop the enactment of the controversial anti-terrorism bill and its threat to people’s rights and freedoms.
As the nation commemorated Independence Day, activists and civil society leaders in Mindanao reached out to President Rodrigo Duterte in different ways, reminding him of the importance of civil and political liberties, even in the hunt for terrorists.
The activists sought to dialogue with Duterte on the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act, using the experience of Mindanao as a theater of the government’s antiterror campaign.
In an open letter, the coalitions Barog KKK (Kalinaw, Katungod, Kagawasan) Mindanao and Tulay Kalinaw Mindanaw (Tulay Kami) urged the President to veto the proposed law which is now awaiting his signature.
“We ask you, Mr. President, to veto the proposed law,” the open letter read.
“Meantime, please commission a review by the country’s legal luminaries, the security sector, and those with experience in dealing with the varied underpinnings of terrorism, in order to come up with a version that is respectful of people’s rights and freedoms,” it said.
As of Friday afternoon, it was signed by Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Antonio Ledesma, who is also Tulay Kami convenor; Charlito Manlupig, of Balay Mindanaw Foundation; Mary Ann Arnado, of the Mindanao Peoples Caucus; Pastor Luis Daniel Pantoja, of the PeaceBuilders Community Inc. and Patricia Sarenas, of the Mindanao Coalition of Development NGOs (Mincode).
“Just like you, Mr. President, we also abhor terrorism. Many of us are even active in various initiatives to combat its spread in Mindanao,” the activists said.
“However, our experiences tell us that the fight against terrorism is rendered meaningless if, in the process, we curtail people’s civil and political liberties, the very hallmark of democracy,” they added.
Myrna Siose, of the group Tulay Kami, said she hoped a space for dialogue is opened between the government and Mindanao civil society so issues about the bill can be threshed out in earnest.
Mindful of health protocol, the coalitions held online gatherings on Friday to express opposition to the now controversial anti-terrorism measure.
Other ways of fighting terror
Lawyer Ernesto Neri, of Xavier University College of Law in Cagayan de Oro City, said the proposed law’s vague definition of terrorism, its allowing warrantless arrest on mere suspicion, and detention without charges for up to 24 days, are worrisome.
“The Anti-Terrorism Bill contains provisions that are unclear, out of bounds, and bordering to being repressive,” said the group Mincode.
Mincode said it recognized “the perils of terrorism and the threat of extremism looming over some of our communities” so it was “in solidarity with our government” in fighting it.
“However, we believe that there are better ways of deterring terrorism,” the group said.
Davao City-based Initiatives for International Dialogue said any law aiming to address terrorism and extremist violence should be centered on human rights, conflict sensitivity and conflict transformation.
Konsensya Dabaw (KD) said the apprehension by different peoples in Mindanao about the repressive potential of the proposed anti-terrorism law is grounded on history.
Martial law accounting
“After all, Mindanao is the theater in which the latest campaign against terror and rebellion is being played out,” the group said.
“Marawi City, Butig, and Piagapo (in Lanao del Sur) are but three examples of Mindanao communities destroyed by terrorist and counter-terrorist attacks alike,” the group added.
“They have not been rebuilt years after the government declared victory over the terrorist groups,” it said.
KD also pointed to the lack of “comprehensive and transparent accounting of the two years and seven months that Proclamation 216 put Mindanao under martial law.”
Terrorism and rebellion were used as reasons for extending martial law in Mindanao thrice. It was first declared on May 23, 2017, at the start of the Marawi crisis.
“Thus, Mindanawons and the rest of the country deserve to know what was accomplished under Proclamation 216 and what the gaps were that would warrant another anti-terrorism initiative,” KD said.
Another group, Sowing the Seeds of Peace-Mindanao, said the proposed law is “a reversal of what our nation’s founders have fought for.”
The group said the bill echoes previous laws during the Spanish and American colonial periods that sought to stifle dissent.
“These were the very laws that were used to vilify, defame, imprison, torture and kill the fighters for our national freedom and independence,” said Bishop Felixberto Calang, local leader of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) and main convenor of the Sowing the Seeds of Peace-Mindanao.
“No doubt, if Andres Bonifacio and the Katipunan were to stand trial today, they would be accused of being terrorists and of flagrantly violating the Anti-Terrorism law,” he added.
In form and substance, Calang said, the newly-passed anti-terrorism bill is “essentially the legitimization of state terrorism.”
IFI Bishop Antonio Ablon said the anti-terrorism bill can become a weapon to attack dissenters, activists, the political opposition, and ordinary people “who dare exercise their constitutional right to petition government for a redress of grievance.”
“President Duterte has a track record of being intolerant of dissent. That is why granting him the powers through his Anti-Terrorism Council is dangerous,” Ablon added.
Greenpeace Philippines said activism is essential for a better normal, and expressed fears the anti-terrorism bill, if it became law, “will stifle citizen participation and critical dialogue necessary in a diverse and inclusive society.”
“At this time when the country is facing multiple crises, we believe that we need leadership that is inclusive and just in its decision-making, and a healthy political environment that encourages opposing views,” said Khevin Yu, Greenpeace Philippines campaigner.
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