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Youth groups slam Anti-Terrorism Bill

LEGAZPI CITY --- Progressive youth groups in this city observed safe distancing as they staged an indignation protest, which they called “mañanita party,” against the Anti-Terrorism Bill on Monday, June 8.

Some 30 protesters from Bicolana Gabriela, Youth Act Now Against Tyranny (Yanat) Bicol, Jovenes Anakbayan, Bahaghari Bicol, Condor Piston Bicol, and Kilusang Mayo Uno staged the protest at the Peñaranda Park at 9:00 AM.

Bicolana Gabriela Bicol coordinator Nica Ombao said that youth who are not part of any group “but who are fed up with the Duterte administration, are also with us today.”

The groups called on lawmakers who abstained and voted “Yes” for the bill to change their votes to “No.”

On June 3, 2020, the House of Representatives passed the bill on its third and final reading with 173-31 vote with 29 abstentions.

The bill has been called by its critics as unconstitutional and a potential tool for more human rights abuses, because of its “vague and overly broad” definitions of terrorism.

“We all know that this bill is not really targeted towards eliminating terrorists in the Philippines, rather it’s targeted towards eliminating critics who continually call out the government for their wrongdoings and shortcomings during this time of the pandemic,” Ombao said.

The protesters also brought with them alcohol and hand sanitizers as added measures against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, which is making protests worldwide tricky.

Their protest placards did not bear any blatant mention of President Rodrigo Duterte, a growing trend on social media after vocal critics who voiced their opinions online have been arrested by authorities.

Some of the placards say, “This is not a protest, this is a mañanita party,” using the term from the controversial birthday party organized for National Capital Region police chief Brigadier General Debold Sinas in early May.

Across the street from Peñaranda Park, Legazpi City police officers wearing helmets and armed with sticks and riot shields were watching the protesters.

“This is expected of the Philippine National Police,” Ombao said. “Time and again, they have proven that they are afraid of people who continue to speak out against their and the government’s abuses.”

Ombao said that activists can acknowledge their own fears, but when it comes to facing threats and intimidation from the police, “we must not be discouraged.”

“If we don’t speak now, we might never be able to speak up for our rights ever again,” she said.

She said that people in power have continued to disregard the 1987 Constitution.

“If they can just step on our freedom of expression, what else of the other sections and articles under the 1987 Constitution?”

“The protest has been peaceful. We were observing whether or not they were practicing health protocols,” Major Virgil Bibat of Legazpi police said.

The rally, however, turned tense when Justine Mesias, Yanat Bicol spokesperson, directly addressed the police in a fiery speech, saying that the authorities have destroyed their future.

“We the youth are so tired of hearing news that another one amongst us have been killed, that another farmer has been murdered,” Mesias said, addressing the police from across the street. “You are the ones destroying our future.”

On Sunday, June 7, social media exploded with a surge of apparent clone accounts on Facebook.

The social media giant said, also on Sunday, that they were investigating the “suspicious activities” and encouraged its users to continue reporting the clone accounts.

Students from universities in and outside Bicol, private individuals, and those who expressed disagreement over the bill were shocked to find multiple clone accounts bearing their full names.

The accounts had no profile photos, had minimal friends, and had profile links with the pattern first name-period-last-name-random number.

“Our take on what the troll farms are doing is that this is like an online ‘tanim-bala,’ Ombao said, using a term widely used in 2015 when incidents of bullet planting scandals involving security personnel at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport hit the headlines.

“They are making dummy account to plant evidence against progressive individuals and then later on, they will use it once the Anti-Terrorism Bill becomes law,” Ombao said.

She said that this tactic against progressives is not new and “we will not be knocked down by this.”

On June 6, progressive youth groups in Naga City staged a protest at the Plaza Quince Martires.

Ombao said that as the June 12 Independence Day nears, more protests are to be expected in the region.

“This protest today is just testing the waters on how big and how we can hold protests in actuality like this because it is a consensus among progressive individuals that online rallies are not enough,” she said.

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