“Worrisome are the expanded and vague definitions of a “terrorist;” the powers given to the Anti-Terror Council to designate a group as a “terrorist group;” the weakening of the protection of one’s privacy and the safeguards against arrests and detention without warrants.”
By RITCHE T. SALGADO
MANILA — As the legal experts of Malacañang continue to study the Anti-Terrorism legislation of both Houses of Congress, and as the 30-day deadline for the president to decide to veto the bill is fast approaching, peace loving Filipinos continue to grow anxious on the possible passing of a law that undermines the freedom and security of many Filipinos who choose to uphold their democratic right to redress and for peaceful assembly.
While the Catholics Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has yet to speak out on the anti-terror measure, several Bishops, religious, and diocesan clergy have issued strong condemnation on the measure.
Recently, the clergy of the Archdiocese of Manila said that national security should not be an excuse to undermine human rights and civil liberties. “To do so makes the government terrorist against its own people,” it said.
The Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines (AMRSP), meanwhile, pointed out that it is troubling that such a measure is passed at a time when the country is faced with a crisis.
“While our embattled nation continues to suffer from the tempests of the COVID-19 virus and its effects on the lives of millions of Filipinos… the leaders of the land have, unfortunately, been trying to fast track the passage of the controversial House Bill (HB) No. 6875,” it said in a statement.
In an interview with Bulatlat, AMRSP Co-Executive Secretary Fr. Angel Cortez, OFM said that this action seeks to silence critics who pointed out government’s failure in responding properly to the pandemic that has killed more than a thousand Filipinos and inflicted almost 35,000 and has affected the whole country.
“There are more people who are killed by the government’s war on drugs,” he said, adding that even the religious are not spared with red-tagging, freezing of accounts, trumped up cases, and others. “Who is the terrorist now?” he asked.
Cortez cited the case of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, the longest mission partner of AMRSP, saying that the government has been terrorizing the group for doing its missionary work in empowering poor farmers and indigenous peoples in the rural areas.
The embattled missionary group’s bank accounts were frozen by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) early this year for suspicions of terrorism financing. Last year, charges were filed against its members including perjury charges against its former national chairperson, the 80-year old Good Shepherd nun, Sr. Ellen Belardo; robbery, arson, and perjury charges against 63-year old Sr. Emma Teresita Cupin, MSM; and frustrated murder against 74-year old lay worker Angie Ipong.
On top of that, schools established by RMP for indigenous peoples were closed and two of its teachers, Melissa Comiso and Nori Torregosa, continue to be incarcerated for trumped-up charges.
In a statement, RMP said that the “criminalization of dissent is already rampant,” pointing out that even “Churches, missionaries, and religious organizations have not been spared” being red-tagged for “doing its Christian responsibility of serving the poor, advocating genuine socio-economic reforms and just and lasting peace.”
The Jesuits and the De La Salle Brothers issued a joint statement signed by the superiors of both congregations and the presidents of their schools and universities, echoing their concern on the bill.
“Worrisome are the expanded and vague definitions of a “terrorist;” the powers given to the Anti-Terror Council to designate a group as a “terrorist group;” the weakening of the protection of one’s privacy and the safeguards against arrests and detention without warrants,” it said adding that the bill could be used to oppress people.
For its part, the Franciscans – priests, brothers, nuns, and lay – pointed out in a statement that the bill is “in essence anti-poor.”
“This will not give peace and security to anyone,” it said adding that “Those in authority, devoid of human and spiritual values, will abuse their power and extra powers.”
“No benefit can ever come from a law that only seeks to add more anxiety, pain, and grief to our marginalized brothers and sisters — mainly because it desires to silence the voices of those working with the poor and with those who lend their voice to the voiceless and hope to the hopeless,” said Carmelite prior provincial Fr. Rico P. Ponce, O.Carm. in a statement.
“We do not need another oppressive and inhumane law. What we need are measures guided by justice, peace, and compassion – laws that seek to bring kaginhawahan (comfort) to our brothers and sisters who have long been suffering from the pains of poverty and injustice,” he continued.
Even before the bill has been signed by the president, the danger of the law is already being felt. Last June 17, Philippine Communications Operations Office Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy shamelessly red-tagged 80-year old Sr. Mary John Mananzan, OSB, a martial law veteran and respected and recognized international theologian. Sr. Mananzan was commenting on the negative ruling against veteran journalists Maria Ressa and Reynaldo Santos Jr. when Badoy grabbed Sr. Mananzan’s Facebook post and started to rant about Mananzan being “given a place of honor in a communist terrorist organization.”
According to Movement Against Tyranny, this accusation by a top-ranking government official, who also happens to be the spokesperson of the government’s anti-communist campaign, would designate the 80-year old nun as a “suspected” terrorist and as such can be detained without charges for 24 hours, is subject to 24 hour surveillance, can be arrested without a warrant and be subject to “a host of other violations of her rights and liberties.”
The concern of the religious congregations and of the church at the moment, however, is that if the president does not veto the bill 30 days after it has been received, it will lapse into law. The bill was transmitted to the Office of the President last June 9.