Martial Law Call?

When President Gloria Arroyo delivered her speech during the signing into law of the anti-money laundering act last March 7, she encouraged the legislature to help her enact a law on anti-terrorism.

Yes, the government and the military should do everything to arrest the perpetrators of these heinous crimes and punish them according to the parameters set by our laws.

However, all of the anti-terrorism bills filed in both houses of congress have one thing in common. All of these do not define what constitutes a terrorism act or a terrorist organization. In fact, the definitions are so broad that it will have hostile effects on our civil and political rights threatening even our legitimate right to peaceful assemble. Likewise, the bills give law enforces unbridled discretion in carrying out warrantless arrests and search and seizure orders without court approval while arrested person/s may be put to jail for 72 hours even without charges being filed in court (Sec 19, H.B. 4980 of Rep Joseph Durano). Certainly, these are illegitimate exercise of the State’s Police power: a willful violation of due process and protection of the people’s right enshrined in the Philippine Constitution.

For labor, this would mean severe violation of our trade union rights particularly the right to strike, e.g., in Section 4 of H.B. 4980, it was stated that any person or organization is engaged in terrorist activities when it is “causing or threatening to cause serious interference with or serious disruption of an essential service, facility or system, whether public or private, other than as a result of lawful advocacy, protest, dissent, or stoppage of work…” The problem with this provision is that it is not stipulated on who will determine these actions. Thus, the capitalist would just declare the legitimate action as an act of terrorism and the police would have a field day in arresting the leaders and members of the union and detained them without charges being filed in court.

In this regard, we would like to warn our legislators that enacting an anti-terrorism law is like resurrecting Martial law all over again when the police and the military were given the primary task to solve the country’s problems. Unfortunately, our experience would tell us that it only worsened rebellion and the people’s unrest. Now, once the bills are enacted, the same powers would be given to the police and the military and certainly, we would only lose all the gains that we have struggled for and won in the past. Once the bills are enacted, the legislators are actually giving the police and military a legitimacy in using the powers of the state rendering inutile other functions and branches of the state. Thus, a repeat of the dark years of Martial law is a big probability when the fundamentals of democracy have been utterly trampled, e.g., congress was padlocked in 1972.

In calling for the enactment of an anti-terrorism law, the president is obviously complying with the instigation of the US for allied countries to enact laws similar to its Patriot Act that seeks to end terrorism by sowing fear and terror among the people.

Certainly, no civil mind would justify and support any terrorist act in pursuit of a political agenda that would cause innocent bodies being mutilated and torn apart while others live as the carnage unfolds right before their very eyes; and terrorism done for selfish ends, e.g., for financial and material gains at the expense of people’s lives would definitely be even more despicable and loathsome.

However, the bills clearly intend to neutralize legitimate political dissent by institutionalizing state terrorism against civilians at its very core since we have enough laws criminalizing any action towards committing rebellion and other crimes against the state, e.g., gun running, money laundering, armed uprising, etc. that will easily incriminate a person or organization to any terrorist activity. We don’t need additional laws. What the government should do is to address the root cause of terrorism, which is the absence of food and justice among the people.

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