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Philippines: Anti-Terror Law takes effect

Five months after it was passed by Congress, the anti-terrorism law known as the Human Security Act (HSA) took effect more than a week ago. The government describes the law as the centerpiece legislation that would deter terrorist activities in the country. It also claims that the Philippines, before the passage of HSA, is the only country in the region without an anti-terror law.

However, the Opposition is worried that the HSA might be used to quell legitimate dissent. The law will be implemented at a time when government is accused of committing human rights violations. Various repressive policies were enforced by the same government which will oversee the execution of the anti-terror law. Police and military forces have also low credibility in upholding human rights.

Philippine E-Legal Forum uploads the full text of the law. Caffeine_Sparks provides an initial summary of commentaries from Filipino bloggers.

According to lawmakers, the HSA contains enough safeguards to prevent abuse of the law. Ped Xing identifies some of the safeguards:

“The maximum of three days of detention without judicial warrant of arrest (rather than the originally proposed three months!); the Executive Secretary (rather than the unsuable president herself) as chair of the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC); suspension of the law three months surrounding any election; designation of a Court of Appeals division to review decisions made by the ATC; the P500, 000 per day penalty for unlawful detention; the requirement for probable cause”.

Senator Jamby Madrigal who voted against the bill is disappointed with other senators who agreed that the ‘safeguards’ are enough to make the anti-terror law acceptable. An excerpt from Himagsik Kayumanggi’s interview with the lady senator:

“They were just justifying their “yes” votes because their amendments were accepted. Yes, the amendments which changed only the grammar [or wording] of the bill. But the amendments which would have changed the spirit of the bill were not accepted and the amendments to safeguard human rights were not really there. There are no safeguards in the bill. You do not have to be a lawyer to see it. So it really makes a mockery of democracy, this is a license to kill and legitimize state terror against its people.”

RG Cruz Reports echoes the motives of the President in prioritizing the enactment of HSA:

“In particular, she wants the anti terrorism law to be used against those bombing Mindanao's power plants, which have caused power interruptions in the island. She wants an end to political violence, especially those directed against the media. That's why instead, she says government will even protect its enemies, so long as they don't resort to terrorism.”

Notes of Marichu C. Lambino uploads the reactions of her students on the HSA. Here is a sample:

“Allowing agents of the government to employ surveillance and other forms of espionage on people under mere suspicion of terrorism paves the way for accessing information, no matter how privileged, may be stolen, coerced out of a journalist, a source, by any means possible, under the guise of legal action. This compromises the watchdog function of the press—any reporter could be coerced or intimidated, under the cloak of legality, to reveal sources, give out information, and report less than what is true”

Our Times writes about the failure of government to provide an Implementing Rules and Regulation (IRR) for the HSA:

“It is puzzling why none of the agencies in charge with writing up the IRR succeeded. If there is no political will in drafting the IRR for such an important measure, then how can there be political will in ensuring that the HSA is fairly and consistently applied against suspected terrorists?”

Postcard Headlines comments:

“Indeed, why is open terror now instrumental in the Arroyo administration's war against her critics ? Why is the state legitimizing this systematic violence against unarmed leaders and members of people's organizations at a mass scale? Aside from the rhetoric on joining the US war against terror, the implementation of the new law can also be seen in the context of the country's slide to further economic degradation.”

But Uncomplicating the complicated is supportive of the HSA:

“The law may be draconian and Big Brotherish but I believe it's really needed by the government in it's fight, actually the people's fight, against all acts or terror…HSA is there to contain the plague of humanity– for terrorists not to see the light of day– never to kill, maim and bomb again another day.”

Philippine Experience has a suggestion for the government:

“The HSA is open to any abuse by those who would implement it. There maybe safeguards but loopholes and misinterpretation by certain quarters can render these inutile… If President Arroyo really wants us to give the HSA a chance, yes we will. But she has to ratify the Rome Statute to make sure that someone will really be watching our backs. With her around, nothing should be left to chance.”

Catholic bishops want further review of the law. In and Out of Season explains:

“Since we as pastors have to look more into the morality of this law and make a pronouncement in that level, we feel that the atmosphere created by this law and its impending implementations calls on us to appeal to those concerned to review this law so that in consultation and dialogue we may have a law that is truly relevant in promoting the security of the nation and in the pursuit of authentic peace.”

Adarna's Attic has an interesting analogy:

“Like water, terror/terrorism is something which we experience everyday. We take it for granted because the government, for one, creates extreme ‘terror scenarios’ to justify unleashing state terror as something short of a ‘normal’ occurrence in our daily lives. Or it is something so anticipated that we somehow just get used to it. We even develop all sorts of counter-measures, but these do not make us less enraged.”

Atty-At-Work believes “the fear is not on the law itself, but seems to arise from the level of [dis]trust on the ones who are tasked to implement it.” Bryanton Post links a statement by journalism students on the implication of HSA on free press. Tingog Katawhan uploads a paper by a scientist on how government is spying on its citizens through tapping of cellphones, landlines and computers. Consumer Fanaticism insists that the HSA was passed to please the United States. Gerry Albert Corpuz Presents appeals to church authorities to discuss critique of HSA in parishes.

Awake in the interregnum cites the military death squads as terrorists:

“Right now, I can't think of any group that systematically slaughters innocents other than military death squads. They sow extraordinary fear (Just ask community mass leaders, working for the marginalized, yet hunted like animals). They create panic among the populace (Just ask the farmers who go into a cedula frenzy knowing that no proof will ever convince government soldiers that they are not insurgents)”.

Ideological Soup is also opposed to the HSA:

“The intent of the government in passing the law may be noble, but the means sought to realize its goal runs counter to the fundamental rights of men, thus, sacrificing the rationale of man's existence for the sake of security.”

Meet Micaa is disappointed with the law. This blogger wants a stronger anti-terror law:

“If there's anyone who might be caused injustice by this law, it is us, good citizens, and the government itself. The law appears to undermine itself as it overflows with relenting safeguards that might prove to promote the crime and render the law toothless”

Related posts: Most controversial military general, Extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, Anti-terror measure in Congress

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