By Sara Gomez Armas
Manila, 23 Jul (efe-epa).- The coming into effect of a controversial anti-terror law in the Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte has brought back ghosts of Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law (1972-81), when political activism was punished and dissent was silenced by force.
The law, which came into force last weekend, “has a chilling effect for society in general and for activism in particular,” Cristina Palabay, a well-known activist and secretary general of Karapatan – a national network of human rights organizations in the Philippines – told EFE.
According to Palabay, “the law offers a legal backup to the government to continue its systematic campaign of red-tagging and harassment against activists and social leaders,” who are systematically accused of being Communists in an attempt to link them to the Communist guerrillas of the New People’s Army (NPA).
The NPA was declared a terrorist organization by Duterte in 2017.
“The anti-terror law culminates Duterte’s Marcos-ian delusions, deepens the state of terror consolidated in his mandate and imposes a de-facto martial law. The more assurances the government gives regarding the law, the more I feel I don’t have assurance at all,” said Palabay.
The fight against the Communist guerrillas was the pretext under which dictator Ferdinand Marcos had declared martial law between 1972 and 1981, during which period at least 3,240 politically motivated killings were recorded, 70,000 dissidents were imprisoned and 34,000 tortured, according to Amnesty International.
Since the start of Duterte’s term in June 2016, more than 100,000 social leaders and human rights activists have been harassed or targeted by law enforcement agencies, while 308 have been killed, 214 tortured, 13 have gone missing and 832 have been unlawfully arrested, according to Karapatan’s records.
“The militaristic response to Covid pandemic has just worsened that situation,” Palabay said, pointing out that at least four activists have been killed during the lockdown and 10 are under arrest “on fabricated charges.”
Rejection of the law has been evident since Congress passed its final version in May, causing the people to widely expressed their discontent on social media and on the streets.
The Catholic Church, business organizations, legal experts, student groups and unions also expressed their disapproval of the anti-terror law.
One of the most concerning aspects of the new anti-terror law is that it loosely defines and expands on what constitutes terrorist offenses.
For instance, a “threat or incitement to commit terrorist acts” is punishable by 12 years of imprisonment, and the provision can be manipulated to classify any protest against the government as terrorism.
The contentious law replaces the Human Security Act of 2007 and, among other amendments, extends the time that a terror suspect can remain under custody without an arrest warrant from three days to 24 days.
It also establishes a committee of government officials and security forces – including the president himself, along with the ministers of defense, interior, foreign affairs and justice, among others – to issue arrest warrants, instead of the courts.
A total 44 social organizations, including Karapatan filed four petitions on Thursday urging the Supreme Court to strike down this law.
The new law “insidiously encroaches upon fundamental and constitutional rights, such arbitrary deprivation of the right to life, liberty and property and the non-observance of the right to due process and to presumption of innocence,” read the petition signed by Karapatan.
Since Duterte signed the act earlier this month, 15 petitions have been filed with the Supreme Court to invalidate it on grounds that – according to legal experts – it exceeded the limits of the Constitution.
On Wednesday, retired Supreme Court judges Antonio Carpio and Conchita Carpio-Morales, two of the most respected jurists in the country, filed their own petition before that court calling for the new law to be declared unconstitutional, as it puts the Philippines in a “worse situation” than martial law.
Supporters of the anti-terror law, including the armed forces, argue that the Human Security Act was not potent enough to tackle the problem of terrorism in the country as in the current age, internet is used widely in recruitment, financing and planning of attacks.