December 7, 2023

Any law with a provision that permits law enforcement officers to arrest and detain a person based on mere suspicion and without the benefit of a warrant of arrest is a dangerous law. It violates the basic guarantee of due process that is held sacred by the Bill of Rights in the Constitution. Such is the context of the Anti-Terrorism Bill, which is on the table of President Rodrigo Duterte for approval.
If it is signed and becomes a law, the Anti-Terrorism Bill will authorize the police and military to arrest and detain a suspected terrorist for 24 days. That is a long period of detention. Within that period, the arresting officers can neither be held accountable nor charged for arbitrary detention.
The trauma of police abuses still reeks under our nose. Under the present law, the detention period of suspected criminals is 72 hours or three days. Thereafter, the suspect must be released if no charge is filed against him or be brought before a magistrate for trial. There are instances when, out of malice, an arresting officer enforces an arrest during weekends to forestall the possibility of the suspect posting bail. This, coupled with the detention, makes it detestable. If arresting a person without a warrant and allowing the arresting officer three days within which to detain is hell, can you imagine the fear that this power can do if the detention lasts for 24 days?
The contention that there are enough safe guards against abuse is a mere sloganeering by politicians who are ignorant of the consequences of the Anti-Terrorism Bill on the life and liberty of the citizens. Given that Filipinos are quite critical about politics, their criticism is wont to be misinterpreted as an act of terrorism. Why is this so? Because the definition of terrorism under the bill is broad enough to include any form of protest or rally against the government or the personalities that occupy its offices.
The bill defines terrorism three-fold. First, terrorists are those “who engage in acts intended to cause death or serious bodily injury to any person or endanger a person’s life.” Second, those who “incite others by means of speech, writing, emblems, banners, or other representation tending to the same end.”
There is no problem with the first two components, although these are already sufficiently covered under the Revised Penal Code. The problem lies in the third component since the law itself does not elaborate on the meaning of the word “incite.”
Under present legislation, “incite” is intricate. It is associated with overt acts like inciting to sedition, inciting to rebellion, and the like to make a definite article. But, under the Anti-Terrorism Bill, the “incite” is in no way associated with terrorism. It is qualified by the phrase “tending to the same end.” What “end” is being referred to is vague. Is it to end the government or to end corruption?
To criticize corruption necessarily carries with it a criticism against the government or the officials who run it. Even as the Constitution guarantees the right of the people “to air their grievances and petition the government for redress,” in the sight of the Anti-Terrorism Bill that forbids them to incite others by means of speech, writing emblem, banners, or other representations, no one in his right mind will dare. Would you if doing so will brand you as a terrorist?
The Anti-Terrorism Bill is intended to repeal the Human Security Act of 2007, one of those laws that are useless. The law existed for 13 years but there is yet a single terrorist to be convicted by this statute. But at least, the Human Security Act contains a safeguard against police and military abuse. It mandates that for each day of wrong detention, the arresting officer is liable to pay damages amounting to P500,000 a day. Moreover, the determination on whether an act falls with the ambit of terrorism is a judicial function.
Not so under the Anti-Terrorism Bill. The proposed law designates a special commission that will determine whether an act constitutes terrorism or a person is a terrorist. Known as the Anti-Terrorism Commission, it is adjunct to the Office of the President. Upon its creation, it becomes the sole arbiter to determine whether a threat should be considered serious enough to be subsumed as an act of terrorism. It is an executive department office under the supervision of the Executive Secretary. So, what gives?
Can you imagine a body exercising the function of a prosecutor, judge, and punisher all at the same time against a helpless and hapless suspect whose only fault is to hold a placard in front of Malacañang and demand for Duterte’s resignation? Such is the situation under the Anti-Terrorism Bill. The government, with all its resources and might, remains unperturbed in coveting additional powers to suppress the weakening voice of the masses.
“What is there to fear if you’re not a terrorist,” the government asks. If law enforcement agencies are given unbridled authority to label every protesting “Tom, Dick, and Harry” as a terrorist, there is everything to be afraid of. If the ordinary Filipinos gather among themselves to seek sympathy for their sub-human conditions and are suspected of inciting a cause against the government, there is everything to be afraid of. If policemen and military personnel show no compunction in arresting suspected terrorists without any fear of punishment or retribution, there is everything to be afraid of. If the definition of what constitutes terrorism and who is a terrorist is entrusted in the hands of politicians who have shown a vindictive reaction against their critics, there is everything to be afraid of.
“Give the law a chance,” pleads the proponents. Should we let the fire spread before we suppress it? Should we allow victims to proliferate before we realize that it is a mistake? The consequences are too gruesome to ignore. The people are not the enemy. Fear, doubt, and suspicion are.