June 2, 2020 (3:42 PM)

3 min read


Hasn’t history taught us enough? The exploit of anti-terrorism legislations has become one of the most widespread threats to our civil liberties. Restrictions to which have never demonstrated nor proven their effectiveness in fighting terrorism, and with the prevalent culture of red-tagging in the country, they would only become legal frameworks for clampdown of activism and justification of human rights violations.

Undeniably, no state or nation is ever exempt from the threats of terrorism. When these dreaded threats morph into reality, governments are often coaxed to enact countermeasures to prevent its spread and mitigate its effects—frequently, with sheer haste and without careful assessment. Unfortunately, in most cases, legislations predicated by impolitic judgment only make matters worse.

With the Senate’s recent approval of “anti-terrorism bill” to its final reading, the future of activists and government critics is imperiled. The key provisions of the said bill cast yet another shadow on the already dire situations of activist groups and organizations.

The problem stems from the bill’s definition of terrorism. Essentially, with the bill’s definition, anyone could be accused of committing, conspiring to commit, or threatening to commit terrorism. Even a simple workers’ strike, street rallies or protests can be considered as acts of terrorism.

From allowing the police and military to conduct 60-day surveillance on suspected terrorists to detaining them up to 15 days, extendable, even without an arrest warrant, the said bill, if enacted, can also compel telcos to disclose their calls and messages are only a few of its appalling key provisions, among others.

With the use of equivocation to effect intimidation and to impair the right to mass-organize and mobilize, activists, political dissenters, right defenders alike, and their legitimate calls are just an inch away from being stifled altogether.

If enforced, the said bill would be prone to abuse due to its susceptibility in being easily employed to silence those who want to express their grievances against the government and consequently demand accountability for it. In truth, the definitions the bill provides are overly broad and vague, to which it immensely affects even free speech.

The bill further mentions “glorification of terrorism”—which has been a subject of debate even across the international landscape. In retrospection, countries that tried to sanction such schemes have seen its detrimental effects on their country and its people. When the offences which constitute terrorism are not appropriately, or too widely defined, that as a result, leads to unwarranted or lopsided restrictions of our fundamental freedoms, it becomes all the more problematic.

Undermining our human rights is precisely the objective terrorism pursues. And to impair, to impose a disproportionate limitation on the people’s freedoms: expression, association, assembly, and movement, as well as the right to privacy is as functional as state terrorism. Eradicating terrorism cannot, in no way, be at the expense of the very principles and values to which our democratic societies were based and built upon.

The bill’s lack of assessment on the impact on human rights is evident that, at a glance, it makes us ask whether or not history has taught us enough. Yet again, with the government’s efforts in painting the atmosphere of martial law as a state of normalcy—through legislation, political maneuvering, and mass desensitization—this should make us question if it is really terrorism that it aims to address to begin with.

The column was previously published in the March 2020 issue of Atenews, read it here: http://bit.ly/AtenewsMarch2020.

About Julien Jame Apale - Kamayo

She is an aspiring engineering student who ended up in the accountancy program. "Kamayo" is the dialect spoken in Cateel, Davao Oriental—her hometown. At the same time, it is a word in her dialect which means "relating to or belonging to the person or people being spoken to."

End the silence of the gagged!

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