IN Tuesday’s forum at the Mandarin Hotel organized by Libertas (Lawyers’ League for Liberty) on the threat of terrorism, invited speakers took turns reflecting on the intrinsic dilemma posed by enacting an anti-terrorism law, which is how to balance the interests of the State and the protection of individual liberties. While there is a general consensus that the plague of terrorism must be fought, a divergence of views exists as to whether such a piece of legislation is necessary especially in the context of the current political situation.
The following are summaries of the presentations, including links to downloadable papers:
Lawyer Camilo Montesa, assistant secretary of the Department of Education, presented the results of the Mindanao Anti-Terrorism Legislation Consultation Workshop conducted on January 27-28 this year which was attended by 60 representatives from the executive and legislative depatrtments and civil-society organizations. The workshop focused on the nine draft bills filed in Congress at the time (five from the House of Representatives and four from the Senate).
Among the problems and concerns raised with regard to the provisions in the draft bills are the following:
- There is no clear Philippine policy on the anti-terorrism campaign, which is dictated more by U.S. agenda rather than the Philippine agenda.
- Preserving the State is more important than civil liberties.
- The law can be used to suppress legitimate dissent, the opposition and the people’s right to self-determination (in the context of the Bangsa Moro and indigenous peoples’ struggles in Mindanao).
- Definition of terrorism is broad and vague.
- In the case of warrantless arrests, the detention period of from 72 hours to 15 days gives too much latitude to police enforcers to violate the rights of citizens.
- The bills lack the safeguards to ensure the protection of civil liberties.
Workshop delegates also expressed fear that the anti-terrorism law will be anti-Muslim. There was likewise strong disagreement that the law is the solution and, in fact, may only exacerbate the situation. As such, the participants vowed that they will vigorously oppose the bill, even coming up with the catchy slogan "Kill Bill."
The group also came up with the following alternative ideas and proposals:
- The State and its agents must also be held liable for terrorist acts;
- Setting up of a compensation fund for those who will be wrongly accused of terrorism;
- For the government to conduct better intelligence work, strengthen peace and order councils and more consultations and dialogues with stakeholders, especially in Mindanao;
- Exploring community-based solutions to address the root causes of terrorism —poverty, ignorance and injustice — rather than purely legislation.
Read more of the workshop comments here.