President Duterte’s signature is the last hurdle to the passing into law of the draconian Anti-Terrorism Bill (ATB) that will threaten indigenous people’s rights and every Filipino’s hard-earned freedom, civil and political rights, and democracy in the country.
Despite the overwhelming protest from indigenous peoples and the Filipino public, the Philippine Senate and House of Representatives railroaded the passage of the ATB. The bill was transmitted yesterday to the office of the President for signing into law. Duterte earlier said that there is no need to hurry in signing the “terror bill.” However, after several legislators withdrew their support for the bill due to public clamor and the majority ‘yes’ vote is threatened to be eroded, Senate President Vicente Sotto III and House Speaker Alan Cayetano rushed to get the bill to the President to secure his stamp.
If the ATB becomes law, the indigenous peoples’ struggle to defend our ancestral lands, natural resources, environment and communities from plunder and destruction by State-backed foreign and local mining and energy companies will be considered acts of terrorism. This is due to the overbroad definition of terrorism in Sections 4-12 of the ATB, which is vulnerable to (mis)interpretation. In addition, the imprecise and vague provisions in the ATB threatens our democratic rights to dissent including criticizing the government for its failure to uphold its mandate.
For many decades, Cordillera indigenous communities have been protesting the entry of large-scale mining and energy projects in our ancestral lands. Until now, our lands remain a target of more than 100 applications for large-scale mining. Defending our ancestral lands and environment from destruction has been our practice. But with the looming terror law, this defense is bound to be considered an act of terrorism and the protesting indigenous peoples are declared terrorists.
Further, the ATB seeks to provide the Anti-Terrorism Council with power to designate any individual or group as terrorists as per their interpretation and application of Sections 4-12, provided for in Section 25 of the ATB. And once a person is declared by members of the Council as a terrorist suspect, the person will be arrested without warrant and jailed without charges for up to 24 days, and up to a lifetime of imprisonment for those found “guilty”.
We are frequently asked what is the worry if this passes into law when it is for the elimination of terrorism and the security of the nation. It is especially dangerous for environmental activists and human rights defenders who are conveniently tagged as terrorists and communist fronts for opposing the attempt of the Duterte regime at harnessing legal power to unleash unbounded State terror in the country.
Even at this time of COVID-19 pandemic, community organizers and environmental activists supporting community initiative to defend ancestral lands against the plunder of development aggression are wrongfully accused of terrorism, vilified and harassed by state forces and their agents. If the ATB is signed, this willful violation of civil rights will be legalized.
With the terror bill, peaceful protests against government projects such as dams and other energy projects, mining and other extractives maybe interpreted as interference or disruption of critical infrastructure. Defense of ancestral domain and the assertion of the right to self-determination may be considered as terrorism.
We attest to religious groups’ statement that we have seen unbridled power accorded to the military that has led to atrocities in the past. With this bill, we expect the perpetration of graver human rights violations especially in areas like the Cordillera where Indigenous peoples are known for their valiant opposition of destructive government projects like the Chico River dams back in the ‘70s.
With the full implementation of the Anti-Terror Law, there is no need for the Philippine government to declare Martial Law to arrest and imprison all those who express opposition against its policies, programs and governance.
How will these government institutions and mechanisms claim to protect us from terrorism when they have been terrorizing us for the longest time? And with the passing of the ATB they can now do so with impunity.
In conclusion, this Anti-Terrorism Bill is in fact a State terror bill; an Anti-People Bill.