Think About It



Think about it.

There was a time in the history of the Philippines that criticizing the government could get you arrested and mercilessly tortured. If luck was not on your side, you could end up somewhere – dead and buried in some abandoned field, a mere statistic.

This was during the time of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos. It was during the Martial Law years that lasted for more than a decade from 1972 – 1986.

Ask any number of activists who fought the Marcos dictatorship and experienced being surveilled by the military – they probably now are your parents, your teachers, your uncles and aunties, or your grandparents – and they will tell you the same thing.

You might not believe it, given the attempt of the Macros family now to sanitize those years of living dangerously as “golden years.” But believe me, as one of the thousands who joined the movement to get rid of the dictator and experienced being hunted by the military, I would not want to relive those years today.

It is for the same reason that many concerned Filipinos, myself included, are against the Anti-Terror Act (ATA) of 2020 that was recently signed into law by President Rodrigo Duterte. ATA does not only bring back memories of Martial Law, it is Martial Law in all its manifestations.

It did not surprise me that the person who signed ATA into law once said that the Philippines would be better off run by the late dictator Marcos, if he were not around to finish his term. Neither did it surprise me that the horde of lawmakers who drafted and supported the anti-terror law are the types of politicians who are inconvenienced by how democracy works – that it can be messy at times, with people loudly protesting, sometimes hurling invectives at corrupt politicians and burning their effigies.

The allies of President Duterte in Congress want us to believe that ATA will not be abused.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson said, he would “exert extra effort in guarding against possible abuse in its implementation…”

According to Senate President Vicente Sotto, “This new law against terrorism is the answer.”

But as explained by several framers of the 1987 Philippine constitution, “This law precisely creates a climate of fear, sends a chilling effect, on those who wish to express their legitimate grievances, state their aspirations, and wish to engage in open and democratic debate, and threatens the rights of associations who may wish to dissent and question the actuations of those in power.”

It may not mean much to someone who is not actively involved in social change, but the overarching definition of what terrorism is, says the Philippine Commission on Human Rights, is open to abuse by limiting “substantial freedoms, including expression of dissent, while {with} the vague and overly broad definition, authorities could wantonly tag {the} exercise of rights as terrorist expressions.”

Who would not question a law that empowers the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC), appointed by the executive branch, to designate an accused already a “terrorist” even before being determined by the court?

Who would not question a law that allows a person to be arrested without any warrant of arrest?

Who would not question a law that allows a person to be detained from three to 14 days, extendable by 10 days, without being charged?

And given the history of the police and the military of planting evidences, who would not be afraid of ATA? Aha, nothing to worry about, if you are not a terrorist. This may probably be true. But what about the workers, the farmers, the teachers, the community organizers, the urban poor, the jeepney drivers, the students, and the nuns and the priests who march on the streets to legitimately air their grievances against the current government and future governments?

These are the same people who were targeted by Marcos during the Martial Law years. Trust me that these are the same people who will be targeted by the current government under the new Anti-Terrorist Act, and not the corrupt, shameless politicians and the unconcerned among us who thrive in silence.

Human rights lawyer Jose Manuel Diokno has been quoted as saying that ATA “is not about going after terrorists, but critics of this administration.” I happen to agree with him because there are already enough laws aimed at established armed groups, like the New People’s Army (NPA), ISIS and other Muslim insurgents.

It is incredibly unfortunate that we have an Anti-Terrorist Law that gives unprecedented power to the government to stifle any form of legitimate dissent and create fear among the people.

Think about it.