WOmen, labor, peasant and other human rights groups condemn acts of terrorism, especially as it victimizes the poor, powerless, and marginalized of society. In the same breadth, we condemn Senate Bill No. 2540 and House Bill No. 5923 (the “Terror Bills”) which have two (2) fatal flaws: they are unnecessary and too open for abuse.
The proposed law is superfluous. While a grave threat to civil liberties and political rights of the Filipino people, who fought for decades for the restoration and guarantee of such fundamental human rights.
We express grave concern as House Bill No. 5923 and its counterpart version in the Senate is being rushed by the legislature, upon the prodding of the President and the strong lobby of the USAID. We express alarm as this comes in the wake of the passage of similar bills in Japan, Korea and the processing of the same in other parts of Asia. Of course, we already know of the US passing the Patriot Act and the Homeland Security Act, a few weeks after 9/11 and urging other nations to fight “terrorism.” The context by which the bill is being rushed is simple and clear – a US-led campaign on terrorism. By US standards, the campaign has targeted “irresponsible states” towards the “prevention of war,” classifying Iraq among the former. Within states, the campaign has targeted “terrorist individuals”, of Moslem background or of simply foreign origin – “suspicious neighbors”. The campaign has revitalized in their ugliest forms, racism and xenophobia.
The Terror Bills are Unnecessary
The Bills wrongly assume that manifestations of terrorism are not punished or covered by current laws. On the contrary, the abductions, deaths and destruction often cited by Congress as justification for the Terror Bills are all punished by current law. Even the act of giving assistance, financial or otherwise, to terrorists fall well within the present penal framework. Even following the Declaration on Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism, acts of terrorism are already covered by existing laws such as the Revised Penal Code (RPC): Crimes Against Public Order, Persons, Liberty and Personal Security, Property; as well as RA 6235 (Anti-Hijacking Law), PD 1727 (Declaring as Unlawful the Malicious Dissemination of False Information or the Willful Making of Any Threat Concerning Bombs, Explosives or Any Similar Device or Means of Destruction and Imposing Penalties Therefor), RA 8294 (Illegal Possession of Firearms).
In short, the Philippines does not lack of penal legislation. It does suffer, however, from a severe lack of law enforcement, especially in the aspects involving the investigation of terrorist acts, and the identification, location, and apprehension of terrorists. It is law enforcement, not the existence of laws, which has been the crucial element missing from the state campaign against terrorism.
For instance, in the case of the Abu Sayyaf, a group widely accepted as a terrorist organization, few will insist that the problem with the Abu Sayyaf is that there is no law punishing the abductions, murders, theft, and destruction perpetrated by the group. In fact, current law covers their acts and even allows for the death penalty to be imposed.
The Terror Bills, which Congress threatens to pass, miss this crucial point and assume that we need a new law defining and punishing “terrorism.” We submit that the Terror Bills are unnecessary; no new legislation is needed to address the problems caused by terrorist groups. What is needed is the strict and honest implementation of existing laws.
The Terror Bills are Too Open for Abuse
At the core of the defect of the Terror Bills is the definition of “Terrorism.” It is too broad and consequently infringes upon the citizen’s fundamental rights involving free speech, assembly and association, freedom against unreasonable searches and seizures and the right to privacy. Consider the following:
· The definition of “terrorism” can cover a broad range of act(s) which aim to influence government. This contravenes our democratic tradition where citizens have the duty to seek redress of their grievances and express their ideas to the government which merely represents them. Hence, under the Terror Bills, as drafted, popular actions cease to be peaceful expressions of people’s sentiment, and become acts of terrorism. Ultimately, the Terror Bills will curtail – not terrorism which is already punished by present law – but people’s actions to express themselves, especially when they take their government to account.
· To make matters worse, “terrorism” as defined by the Terror Bills not only covers consummated acts or those already manifested through overt acts, but also those which merely “threaten” terrorism. Given the already broad range of acts which are made to fall under “terrorism”, the inclusion of mere “threats” of such acts further widens the scope of acts punished even further. Applied to real life, not only are demonstrations by the people considered terrorist acts but the mere threat that such demonstrations will be conducted is considered as terrorism already. Nothing can stifle the exercise of freedom of expression more than such absurdly draconian measures.
· We note that the Terror Bills propose that terrorism as defined therein calls for the application of R.A. 9160 as amended (the Anti-Money Laundering Act), and R.A. 4200 (the Anti-Wire Tapping Act). This simply means that the funds, property, and communication of a person who is suspected of being a terrorist (under the Terror Bills’ broad definitions this can be anyone) can be subject of search and even seizure by law enforcement authorities. We oppose such unprecedented intrusion into people’s right to privacy. People will hardly feel more secure when the authority to conduct such a high degree of interference is entrusted to law enforcement agencies and the judiciary.
· We further note that the Terror Bills extend the inquest period for those accused of terrorism to fifteen (15) days. This means that suspected terrorists can be held without formal charge for more than two (2) weeks. We emphasize the importance of the right to a preliminary investigation or inquest as soon as possible after arrest, which has long protected those wrongly accused of unnecessary detention. There is nothing in the crime of terrorism which should erode this safeguard. On the contrary, given the broad and vague definition of terrorism as well as the government’s continuing penchant to accuse persons wrongly, the security provided by the right to preliminary investigation or inquest should be strengthened.
The national situation, beset as it is by threats and overt acts of terrorism, has to address squarely its problems of law enforcement and corruption in the military establishment. As it is, acts of terrorism (as already penalized in the RPC) are not investigated thoroughly, law enforcement operations are not transparent, and military operations such as that in Mindanao go overboard worsening distrust among groups of people struggling for self-determination.
The Terror Bills now pending in Congress and certified as urgent by President Arroyo miss the point that acts of terrorists are already punished by statute. What is worse, the Terror Bills erode the rights guaranteed by the Constitution as being indispensable to the maintenance of a democratic and free society. People should remain free to express themselves without fear of being tagged as terrorists and held for an extended period of time. People should continue to be able to influence government policy without fear that their communication will be tapped. If only the present laws are honestly enforced, and government agents are free from suspicion that they collude with terrorists, there will be no need to concoct a new crime called terrorism. By being unnecessary and too open for abuse, the Terror Bills should be junked.
AKBAYAN! Citizens Action Party
Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL)
Amnesty International Philippines
Buklod ng Kababaihan – Olongapo
Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW)
Center for Agrarian Reform Empowerment and Transformation (CARET)
Center for Migrants Advocacy – Philippines (CMA-Phils.)
Confederation of Independent Unions in the Public Sector (CIU)
Institute of Politics and Governance (IPG)
Labor Education and Research Network (LEARN)
Manggagawang Kababaihan Mithi ay Paglaya (MAKALAYA)
Mariners Association for Regional and International Networking Organization (MARINO)
Merchant Marine Overseas Association (MMOA)
National Union of Workers in Hotel Restaurant and Allied Industries (NUWHRAIN)
Pambansang Katipunan ng mga Samahan sa Kanayunan (PKSK)
Peoples’ Global Exchange (PGX)
Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA)
Philippine Human Rights Information Center (PhilRights)
Pinag-isang Tinig at Lakas ng Anak Pawis (PIGLAS)
Women’s Education, Development and Productivity, Research and Advocacy Org. (WEDPRO)