June 2, 2023

The Constitutionally-guaranteed rights of every Filipino are once again in the face of uncertainty.
On June 3, the Lower House passed its version of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, which President Rodrigo Duterte has certified as an urgent legislation.
Notwithstanding the assurance of the lawmakers that the Anti-Terrorism Bill has enough safeguard measures to ensure that human rights are not trampled upon, we find the measure bothersome, especially in a democratic country where the government should be the first to uphold the rights of every citizen, such as their right to express disgust and call on the State to mend its policies or actions that they are not comfortable with.
Its passage in the Lower House also came at a time when there is a snowballing call for citizens to be vigilant and make sure that elected leaders especially those in the halls of power from the Batasan Complex to Malacañang to be accountable for their action amid the Covid-19 pandemic and growing level of dissent in our democratic society.
No amount of assurance – especially if it is coming from this administration and its allies – will convince us that the measure was passed to counter terrorism.We are more convinced that more than the terrorists, it targets, among others, the dissenters or those whose beliefs contradict that of the government.
The provision in the bill which states that advocacies, protests, dissent, mass actions, and other similar exercises of civil and political rights, among others, are not considered as a form of terrorism,will never be an assurance that those involved in such actions will indeed be treated as individuals who are merely exercising their rights. This will never be acknowledged by a government that has been a bully to its critics.
In a free society such as ours, the right to dissent is an inalienable right. This administration, as shown by its rage towards groups that criticizes its policies, does not respect that. Worse, groups that are critical of the government have been tagged as terrorists. Under the Anti-Terrorism Bill, groups or individuals suspected to be terrorists can be subjected to warrantless arrests and can be detained to up to 24 days and can be subjected to a surveillance in which law enforcers can intrude into their private communication. Why would the State sanction the intrusion to an individual’s right to privacy?
Instead of approving the Anti-Terrorism Bill, the government should focus on strengthening the capability of the military, the police, and other law enforcement agencies’ intelligence gathering and surveillance activities. We laud the latest action of Malacañang when it suspended the abrogation of the RP-U.S. Visiting Forces Agreement, which the country has greatly benefited in its war on terror owing it to the intelligence and surveillance support from the U.S. military forces.
Law enforcement agencies, such as the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines, should use their billions worth of confidential and intelligence funds allocation to gather reports on terrorism. There is no need for another law, whose implementation will again be financed by the taxpayers’ money only to be used to stifle their rights as human beings.
Human rights, the ones that the Anti-Terrorism Bill is bound to trample upon, are inalienable rights.
No government should dare take that from their citizens. Not now, not ever.