June 8, 2020 (5:37 PM)

4 min read


Photo taken from SAMAHAN Twitter page

Amidst the armed conflicts in Mindanao, presidents of various Mindanao Student Governments opposed the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 in its joint statement saying that it is “unacceptable for the removal of the safeguards to the rights of the people.”

Given the current political context, Renz Lacorte, president of the Ateneo de Davao University student government believes that this bill if enacted will “mean more harm than good.”

“When safeguards aren’t enough or non-existent at all, it will warrant the abusive law enforcement authorities to abuse the law and push forward their vested interests,” he said.

“[Our] law enforcement is very problematic and gov’t authorities have directly and indirectly used legalities or laws to silent dissenters and oppositions,” he added.

For the University of Southeastern Philippines Student Council President Harvey Lao, the primary purpose of a student government is to serve the best interest of the students. He emphasized that the passage of the anti-terrorism bill would affect the students being critical of the government.

“This bill has a sweeping definition of terrorism that it may be used to silence dissent and that puts immense power on the executive department. This is consistent with the record of the government of filing charges for people posting negative comments online. With this context, the students, whom we serve, may become a target for simply being critical of the policies of the government. As a democracy, this is unacceptable,” Lao said.

On the Mindanao peace process

Inasmuch as they support the elimination of violent extremism and terrorism in Mindanao, the student leaders believe that ratifying the bill would rather send a “wrong signal to the people” especially in the middle of a pandemic.

“Peaceful dialogue, respect for human rights, instituting programs that would alleviate the people from poverty, enabling better access to education and other social services are the best and humane solution against terrorism,” the group said in their official statement.

Moreover, the group asserted that some provisions in the bill “must be changed” including the 24-day period of detention of warrantless arrest, wiretapping of individuals or organizations for 60 days and absolution of authorities from any criminal liability in case of delay in the delivery of detained person to the proper judicial authorities. They further appealed to President Rodrigo Duterto to veto the present measure.

On the Moro struggle and red-tagging

With regard to the armed conflicts in Mindanao, Moro advocate and former Samahan Campus Clubs Organization (CCO) Chairperson Jorjani Sinsuat criticized the group’s statement because of their claim that “terrorism is brought by historical injustices.”

“While we appreciate the call to #JunkTerrorBill, let’s be sensitive in connecting ‘terrorism’ to ‘historical injustices committed to our people’. The revolution set forth by Moro fronts is in no way connected to what has been labeled as terrorism,” Sinsuat stressed in his Facebook account.

The group apologized and responded by withdrawing this part of the statement. They later deleted it and reposted a second version which did not contain the line corrected by Sinsuat.

“The Bangsamoro cause has its legitimate and valid reasons and contexts why they took up arms—Mindanao secessionism and separatism. We need to be aware of that. Tagging them as terrorists would not help in our pursuit of lasting peace. We need to engage in an inclusive peace process,” Lacorte explained.

Due to the intensification of Islamophobia and spread of fake news in the country, Kabataan Partylist Vice President for Mindanao Jayvee Cabajes believes that under the bill, no one is safe because it will not only intensify the numerous injustices experienced by the Moro people but also threaten individuals who express dissent against the government.

“When Martial Law was implemented in Mindanao, human rights violations intensified along with numerous political killings. With the implementation of the Anti-Terrorism Bill, this will be used as an excuse to intensify their attacks to the people,” Cabajes shared.

“You can be arrested even on mere suspicion. This is alarming not only to Moro people but also to the activists, human rights defenders, and other individuals who express dissent against the government. The government easily tagged people as terrorists or supporters of any armed organizations. The Moro will be no exception.”

End the silence of the gagged!

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