Activism is Not Terrorism: The “Anti-Terror” Bill of the Philippines

Featured Illustration: CJ Andrea

grey-line-png-6

Despite the implications the name might suggest, the recently signed “Anti-Terror” Bill of the Philippines does not enforce the safety of others, nor prevent threats of terrorism; rather, the bill is a particular mechanism for the Philippine government to take over and directly administer the terrors it claims to prevent. Formerly known as the “Terror Bill”, the controversial law was signed on July 3rd, 2020 by President Rodrigo Duterte and will take into effect in the Philippines on July 18th, 2020. Under the Anti-Terror Bill, persons who are merely suspected to be involved in terrorist activities will be punished to the fullest extent — regardless of the stage in which the alleged act of terror acts take place, and without a fair trial to defend oneself. A warrant is not needed to make these arrests, and excessive surveillance will be used to undermine conspiring “terrorists”, disregarding the right to privacy. With this bill, the civil liberties of Filipinos regardless of geographic location will be compromised for speaking to their truths and for critiquing a government that enforces violence and pushes negligence onto its people. The inception of this bill, the wounds from a painful history of false leadership, and the dangers of the current president combined means the sustained mass suffering of Filipino people worldwide. 

President Duterte and the Impact of His Regime

To contextualize the profundity of the bill, it is necessary to investigate the history of leadership the Philippines has endured, spanning from the time of Ferdinand Marcos’ regime, but particularly to the present with President Duterte. The last time the Philippines felt the effects of martial law was back in the time of Marcos’ dictatorship; Duterte has been militarizing his government upon arrival to his term with direct fiscal help from the US to provide arms and weaponize the country, rather than prioritizing the public health crisis of COVID-19. Marcos was a kleptocrat and stole resources directly from the Philippine people, and Duterte is following the same sense of self-preservation with arbitrary responses that fail to accommodate the real needs of the masses.

In these times of the pandemic, Duterte guaranteed to sustain the people’s wellbeing, which ultimately fell short of expectations: food provisions were promised of each household, but rations were drastically insufficient, especially for families of many members; he opened up the country’s businesses to stimulate the suffering economy, but shut down the public modes of transportation that the majority of workers relied on to arrive at their jobs. These are all happening against the backdrop of a vicious war on drugs further agitated by Duterte’s time in office; the escalation of drug use in the Philippines caused desperation from underprivileged groups to address the matter, which resulted in displaced hope towards Duterte’s presidential campaign claims of containing the issues: “The scale of his electoral victory and the fact that his support from the underprivileged is adulatory — almost devotional — has enabled him to ride rough over the little opposition [at the time of his coming into office]” (Saighal).

Duterte’s war on drugs has recklessly taken the lives not only of supposed drug users and pushers, but also trade union leaders, indigenous people, and activists, all of whom were not granted a fair trial under his term to represent themselves against the accusations of drug use or distribution. Furthermore, the Philippines is currently the most dangerous country in the world for land and environmental activists with 300 extrajudicial executions, 609 unwarranted detainment of political prisoners, 54 Indigenous Lumad schools closed, and over 350,000 displaced individuals (from Global Witness, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Report, International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, and World Organisation Against Torture).

Indigenous Lumad peoples are particularly targeted by displacement, discrimination, and exploitation with the takeover of land, resources, and even lives at the hands of the government, all of which cannot be spoken out against under the inception of the Anti-Terror Bill. Cristina Palabay, the secretary-general of Karapatan, the Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights, predicts, “What we [will] see is the killings continue … The impunity of past administrations continues.” The bill would enable the continuation of an oppressive authoritative hold on the people. With the Anti-Terror Bill, clear favor would be placed towards a corrupt government that does not hold the interests of the Philippine people.

The Problems with the “Anti-Terror” Bill

Ultimately, the problems the bill holds are due to the subjectivity of what classifies as a “terrorist”, and, therefore, what constitutes reasonable grounds for accusation. Classifying a terrorist is up to authoritative jurisdiction — if they feel threatened or intimidated when their actions are questioned, they can classify it as a terrorist threat. Human rights lawyer Jose Manuel Diokno says, “We think this is against the constitution. Given the broader definition of terrorism, the administration’s critics could be tagged as suspected terrorists” (Reuters).

Any and all critiquing against Duterte, mobilizing under civil rights activism, and disapproving the government can be classified as conspiring to incite terrorist activities. The bill revokes the rights to freedom of speech of protestors, landowners, laborers, and other community members by justifying the extrajudicial arrests and killings of those who organize against the powers working against their interests.

In addition, the excessive use of unlawful wiretapping of different methods of communication would become a primary tool used by the government in order to monitor any communication that could be deemed as a conspiracy to create terror (Youth Writes PH). Similar to the war on drugs, the proposed Anti-Terror Bill doesn’t expressly address a means for a fair trial for the suspected conspirators to defend themselves; if you are alleged, then you cannot make a case for yourself (Pinoy Ako Blog). The control that authorities will gain from this bill will weaponize the law and other authoritative platforms against the masses that challenge these very powers that be.

Opportunities for Support

The diaspora of Filipinx people is widespread across the world, but distance from the homeland does not, and should not, limit our ability to support those back home. The most critical step I’ve made to better understand the full extent of situations in the Philippines is to become involved with grassroots Filipino organizations that dissect these issues, educate the masses on these issues, and mobilize for change against these issues: Anak Bayan, The Malaya Movement, Philippine US Solidarity Organization (PUSO), International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP), and GABRIELA are all wonderfully informative movements to participate in, some of them with international chapters for non-US audience members (and this by no means is a full, comprehensive list; there are other organizations out there that encompass the same fight for liberation that may be more accessible to you).

Several petitions are up to show solidarity in the disapproval of this bill (via Action Network, Change.org). For audience members in the Philippines, a graphic from Karapatan emphasizes the rights of Filipino citizens to stay calm, be assertive of their rights, and ask for the name, rank, and position of your investigating officer during an arrest. Educating ourselves and others should not falter as we face adversity on a massive front. We need to use our fears, our agitations, our hopes as motivation to bring back a liberation that was once ours.

As I am writing from the perspective of an American-born Filipina, there are cultural facets that differ from my understanding of my Filipina identity, but I know that activism is not terrorism. Identifying freedom versus entrapment is not terrorism. The unjust violence upon the masses is the real terrorism. We need to recognize this and unite under this truth for us to achieve collective liberation. 

. . .

Sources: