The Bagong Alyansang Makabayan opposes in the strongest terms the latest draft of the antiterrorism bill dated May 4, 2005 entitled AN ACT DEFINING TERRORISM, ESTABLISHING INSTITUTIONAL MECHANISMS TO PREVENT AND SUPPRESS ITS COMMISSION, PROVIDING PENALTIES THEREFORE AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES. In a time when civil liberties are threatened on all fronts, when state agents resort to labeling government critics as “enemies of the state”, and when the same critics are being killed or harassed, the Anti-Terrorism Bill poses another serious threat to civil liberties and human rights. This is one case where the purported cure is worse than the disease.
The proposed Anti-Terrorism Bill (ATB) will not solve the so-called problem of “terrorism”. Far from deterring “terror”, the bill will itself be an instrument that will inflict “terror” on the people. It is, as the Public Interest Law Center correctly described it, a legal monstrosity.
Our opposition is based on the following grounds:
1. The definition of terrorism (SEC 3), as in previous versions of the bill, remains dangerously broad, vague and sweeping. The ATB defines terrorism as the “premeditated, threatened, actual use of violence, force, or by any other means of destruction perpetrated against person/s, property/ies, or the environment, with the intention of creating or sowing a state of danger, panic, fear or chaos to the general public, group of persons or particular persons, or of coercing or intimidating the government to do or abstain from doing an act.”
The bill does not provide any clear, unambiguous parameters as to what constitutes a state of terror, danger, panic or fear. How does the definition of terrorism differ from plain banditry and other criminal activities that also employ violence and sow panic or fear? As far as the definition goes, anything that endangers or threatens anything or anyone can be construed as an act of terror.
The absence of clear definitions is dangerous. The potential for abuse is not unfounded. In a time when government labeling of “enemies of the state” has been committed with impunity – with critics of the administration being the first to be labeled—such an open-ended definition of terrorism can also be abused to include critics of government and may be used to stifle legitimate forms of dissent.
2. Not only is the definition of terrorism vague, it automatically excludes the concept of “state terrorism”. The proposed bill implies that terrorist acts are committed only by those outside government. While it states that the government is one of the targets of terrorist acts, it does not consider the possibility of the state committing acts of terrorism against the people. Such
a definition of state terrorism is necessary given the historical experience of the Filipino people under the Marcos fascist dictatorship. How does one consider well-documented cases of indiscriminate bombings, massacres, hamleting, and other forms of violence committed by the military and police against unarmed civilians?
3. The ATB is superfluous as it merely lists down crimes already punishable under the Revised Penal Code and embellishes these crimes with the definition of “terrorism”. Also, the parameters on how terrorism is committed (SEC 4) are also vague and can lead to possible abuses. For example, SEC.4.4 states that terrorism is committed when “threatening or causing interference with or serious disruption of an essential service, facility or system whether public or private, other than the result of lawful advocacy, protest, dissent or stoppage of work. (underscoring supplied)”
Does this mean that a strike can be deemed a terrorist act when said strike is declared unlawful? In the case of the Hacienda Luisita dispute which halted production at the sugar mill, the strike was declared illegal by the DOLE. Can this work stoppage be considered a “terrorist act”? In the case of the destruction of the environment, will the illegal loggers both large-scale and small-scale, be considered terrorists as well? Will a computer hacker who destroys a computer or defaces a government website be considered a terrorist? What about street protests that cause disruptions in the flow of traffic? Will these be considered acts of terror when these protests cease to be “lawful”?
The crime of “conspiracy or proposal to commit terrorism” is also very vague and broad. It penalizes people for contemplating or proposing what the state considers as acts of terror. Under this dangerous definition, a person can already be charged with a crime even without actually committing any offense.
Furthermore, under the vague definitions in SEC 7 of the proposed bill, mere personal association with “suspected terrorists” can also be construed as facilitating, contributing and promoting terrorism. One can become a criminal by mere association, even without actually committing any offense.
4. Legal definitions should be categorical and explicit to be effective. Unfortunately, the proposed bill encompasses virtually anyone engaged in any form of violence. This definition also does not distinguish for example between combatants and non-combatants in situations of armed conflict. It does not distinguish between civilian property or military property (military bases, detachments) as targets of terrorism.
It is not far-fetched to assume that the first casualty of the proposed bill would be members of revolutionary armed movements, like the CPP/NPA/NDF and the MILF. This would be contrary to established Philippine jurisprudence such as the Hernandez Doctrine, which states that all acts in pursuit of one’s political beliefs are absorbed in one crime of rebellion and cannot be divided into several common crimes.
Next to be likely tagged as terrorists are groups which state agents have already labeled as “front organizations”. These include legal and legitimate people’s organizations, which are already facing various forms of harassment under the present system.
It cannot be denied that according to international law and resolutions, international humanitarian law and conventions, the commentaries of numerous legal scholars as well as judicial doctrine pertaining to the matter, acts in pursuit of one’s political beliefs are considered legitimate, have legal recognition and cannot as such be regarded, much less penalized, as terrorism.
5. The proposed bill curtails civil liberties and other democratic rights and is a serious threat to human rights. It allows warrantless arrests, prolonged periods of detention without charges and the invasion of privacy by allowing wiretapping and other forms of electronic surveillance, all of which have heretofore been routinely abused by state agents. The ATB will thus institutionalize and legitimize such brazen violations of civil liberties and human rights.
6. The ATB is an attack on the right to organize and on freedom of association. An organization can be proscribed as terrorist by the Department of Justice if any member/s openly and publicly declares, admits and acknowledges to have committed any of the acts punishable under the proposed bill. All it takes are members (whether actual or not) who will admit that the organization is engaged in terrorism. In the past, government has been known to arbitrarily round up civilians in the barrios and present them as rebel surrenderees. There have also been cases wherein government presented false or recycled terror suspects. It would be fairly easy therefore to manufacture such means—come up with a few “members” who will admit to terrorism—to justify the terrorist labeling of any legitimate organization.
An organization can also be tagged as terrorist by the DOJ when any international organization lists it as such. This is in clear violation of Philippine sovereignty since international entities will be influencing our internal affairs through terrorist-listings.
What is most disturbing about the proposal for the proscription of so-called terrorist organizations is that the this section does not contain any provision on due process. The proscription of an organization is merely recommended by the Anti-Terrorism Council and implemented by the DOJ. Nowhere in the section does it say that the organization involved must be notified and given a chance to air its side. There is no defense for any proscribed organization, except for an appeal process, which naturally takes place after an organization has already been proscribed.
Furthermore, failure to terminate membership in the proscribed organization will be considered a crime. One becomes a terrorist even when one has not actually committed any offense, simply because one belongs to or has failed to terminate membership in a proscribed organization. This provision is down-right oppressive and once again violates due process and other constitutional guarantees and freedoms. This is a throwback to the time of the Anti-Subversion Law of Marcos wherein mere membership in the CPP is already considered a crime.
Government’s failure to address the problems of terrorism stems not from the absence of laws but from the government’s own incompetence and the historical collusion between state forces and those that have come to be known as “terrorist groups”. The bill would be among the many existing instruments of the state to violate people’s rights.
We urge our lawmakers to reject the proposed anti-terrorism bill.
RENATO M. REYES, JR.
Bagong Alyansang Makabayan