By Sara Gomez Armas
Manila, Jun 12 (efe-epa).- In a very tense political moment in the Philippines, thousands of people defied the COVID-19 quarantine to protest on Independence Day over the repressive measures of the Rodrigo Duterte government, especially its controversial anti-terrorism law.
Thousands of Filipinos, mostly university students, congregated on the campus of the University of the Philippines in Manila, despite the rain, the numerous police controls in the surroundings to restrict access and the warning the authorities issued on the eve imposing limits of meetings to 10 people during the quarantine.
“It was a big threat, they did threaten on TV they were going to arrest everyone but once again people’s solidarity,” Maded Batara, a 20-year-old computer science student, told EFE about the statements by the National Police spokesman, Bernard Banac, who urged Filipinos to stay home and protest online.
In order not to violate the quarantine, the protesters organized in lines, wearing masks and keeping the metro away from society, with posters that cried out “Activism is not terrorism,” “Outside Duterte” or “Dissent is not a crime” in repudiation of the antiterrorism law already approved in Congress and that only requires the signature of the president.
“It is a repressive law that seeks to silence political activism and any critic of the Administration,” lamented Batara, who believes that the “time to protest is now”, instead of waiting for Duterte’s mandate to expire in 2022, to leave It is clear to future candidates that “the Filipinos will continue to fight against all forms of tyranny to defend our democracy.”
The law expands the range of crimes attributable to terrorism, such as “threatening or inciting to commit terrorist acts,” punishable by 12 years in prison, a provision that according to legal experts seeks to punish dissent, since any protest against terrorism could be classified as terrorism. government.
The norm also extends up to 24 days – from the current three – the time that a terrorism suspect can be detained; creates a committee of law enforcement officers to issue arrest warrants for terrorism, rather than a court; and gives free access to espionage and access to the private data of any suspect.
Opposition parties, lawyers, activists and human rights organizations have pretested that law, which according to several jurists exceeds the limits of the Constitution.
The demonstration was baptized “Gran Mañanita”, a term of Spanish-Mexican heritage that is used in the Philippines to refer to a morning birthday party, since today is the 122nd anniversary of the independence of the country from the Spanish colony.
But with irony, he also alluded to a controversy that shook the Manila police chief, General Debold Sinas, a few weeks ago, who organized a massive party for his birthday on May 8, when the capital was in strict confinement and was not they allowed social gatherings, and posted photos on social media.
For this reason, many protesters protested with hats, balloons, cakes and bouquets, to denounce with some derision the “double standard” of the law in the Philippines, since Sinas has not been sanctioned – even Duterte defended it -, while some 190,000 Filipinos have been arrested or reprimanded for skipping confinement, of which almost 2,900 are still in prison.
The arrest for a week of six jeepney drivers – a very popular and cheap public transport in the Philippines banned during the pandemic – for demanding a small protest from the government to help them survive has caused great popular outrage.
Like that of a fish vendor who escaped quarantine in order to earn some money, who was arrested for twelve days without his family knowing his whereabouts.
“Duterte is the number one traitor and terrorist in the country. He is a sellout to foreign powers, and he uses state terror to silence the Filipino people,” said Christine Lopez, 24.
“If their definition f new normal is people dying and people jobless and poorer, defenitely we don’t want it any more. On Independece Day we want to redeem our freedom,” she added.
The president chose to militarize the response to COVID-19 and imposed one of the strictest and longest quarantines in the world, which has failed to curb contagions; while the erosion of rights deepens. For many, the antiterrorist law is the last piece to establish a de facto martial state without democratic guarantees.
“Duterte is the main terrorist and traitor in the country. He has sold himself to foreign powers and uses the state of terror to silence the Filipinos “, criticized the spokesman for the student association, Youth Against Tyranny, Raoul Manuel.
In a televised message to mark Independence Day, Duterte urged Filipinos to “fight together against COVID-19” and demonstrate “the same bravery and nobility” as those of the heroes who fought for the country’s independence. EFE-EPA