I continue my series on the weaponization of the law against human rights and democracy.
For all its proven utility, law has not always been crafted to be moral, fair, just or equitable. Ideally law is designed to achieve noble and sublime objectives to benefit the common good as understood by most philosophers; however, this is not always the case.
History is replete with instances where the rule of law is wielded to persecute, oppress, repress or suppress. It may be used against a particular individual, race, ethnic group, religion, gender or directed at a particular segment of society. Often, this phenomenon arises when there is too much concentration of power, political or economic, in a single individual or group of individuals, predominance in number, or overwhelming disparity in power between two opposing forces. Abuse of law often thrives in a dictatorship, autocracy, a democratic state with weak institutions, multiracial/multi-religion states and similar conditions of flawed/weak/ socio-economic and political structures.
Unfortunately, this is what we are today: a democratic state only in name because of weak institutions.
Recently, the Senate passed Senate Bill No. 1083, which aims to repeal Republic Act No. 9372 or the Human Security Act of 2007, replacing it with an amended version dubbed the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020. The bill was approved with only two senators – Francis Pangilinan and Risa Hontiveros – dissenting. Meanwhile, a counterpart bill is pending in the House with hearings scheduled this week with the intent of passing such version soon.
It would be a tragedy if Congress enacts a final version of these Bills that is near the Senate version. If that happens and President Duterte signs it into a law, what we would have is an Anti-Human Security Act.
I make mine the critique of SB No. 1083 of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL)which has pointed out that, once it becomes law, this so-called Anti-terrorism Act will become a most potent weapon the government can wield to suppress dissent. According to NUPL, such a law will provide the legal framework for a crackdown on progressive organizations, civil society groups, activists, members of the media, and individuals labelled as dissidents or “enemies of the state”.
NUPL points out that under such a law, military personnel and other law-enforcement agents would be permitted to carry out warrantless arrests and detain suspected terrorists for an initial period of up to 14 days, extendable for another 10 days – a significant increase from the three-day maximum period for detention permitted under the Human Security Act. Apart from the dangerously-broad powers given to the police, the military, and other government agencies under S.B. 1083, an Anti-Terrorism Act would expand what is an already-vague definition for “terrorism” under the current law with no clear parameters that could limit its application.
Equally loathsome in SB No. 1083 is the removal of human rights safeguards that are in the current Human Security Act, such as the monetary award, in the amount of Php 500,000 for each day of detention, which the law mandates be granted to persons acquitted of charges for terrorism. Other provisions imposing penalties on law-enforcers responsible for abuses in the implementation of the Human Security Act have also been removed.
NUPL points out that this legislation would have grave consequences for due process “not only because it fails to give notice as to the actions that would constitute an offense under the said law, but also because it gives undue discretion to the military, law-enforcers, prosecutors, and judges in determining which acts may qualify as terrorism’”. Indeed, the approved Senate Bill would criminalize acts which have, traditionally, been considered legitimate exercises of free speech, freedom of expression, the right of peaceful assembly, and freedom of association.
Thus: “S.B. 1083 would impose a penalty of 12 years’ imprisonment for those who – by their speeches and writings – shall “incite” others to commit terrorism, even though the speaker or writer takes no direct part in any terrorist act, and without regard for the context under which the speech is being delivered. The same penalty would befall a person for mere membership in an organization considered to be a terrorist group. On the other hand, the person who encourages others to join such an organization becomes liable as a “recruiter”, subject to an even harsher penalty: life imprisonment.”
I agree with NUPL that the enactment of S.B. 1083 or any similar or equivalent law – :which, by its very letter, punishes people not for their actions, but for their words and ideas – would be a regression, signifying nothing less than an attack on the liberal values we, as a nation, claim to uphold.”
Finally, the NUPL is correct in pointing out that the most dangerous thing in this legislative measure is the mechanism that allows for the immediate declaration of an organization as a terrorist or outlawed group. The government will be authorized to do this without prior notice whatsoever to the subject organization, no opportunity for it to respond, and no hearing. Indeed, “this proposed mechanism – included in the bills filed before both the Senate and the House of Representatives – is a legal tool that could be used for the mass incarceration of members of targeted organizations, all without the hassle of filing cases, securing warrants, or presenting evidence to prove the suspects’ culpability.”
A law that would enact these provisions will not be effective against terrorism. It is anathema to human rights, democracy, and yes our individual and collective human security.
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