MANILA, Philippines – Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano defended the controversial anti-terror bill feared by many it would be used to stifle government dissenters, arguing that critics should read the proposed measure first before lambasting it.
On Friday, June 5, the Speaker broke his silence on the passage of House Bill (HB) 6875 or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, which breezed through the committee level and the House plenary in a span of a week. (READ: ‘Draconian’ anti-terror bill, feared to be used vs gov’t critics, hurdles Congress)
“Basahin natin before we criticize, because ang daling sabihin eh [na may] repression, wala ng democracy, draconian,” Cayetano said his a speech in the plenary just before the House adjourned session sine die.
(Let us read before we criticize, because it’s so easy to say there is repression, there is no more democracy, that it is draconian.)
“Basahin ‘nyo po ‘yong batas. Bawal po ‘yong mga nag-di-dissent lang o ‘yong mga nag-o-object lang or nag-ra-rally or nagpapahayag lang laban sa gobyerno, bawal po na sila ay turingan na terorista,” he added.
(Read the bill. It would be prohibited to consider those who are merely dissenting, objecting, protesting, or expressing opposition to the government as terrorists.)
Cayetano delivered his speech through the teleconferencing app Zoom, where his background was a picture of the Batasang Pambansa plenary hall’s screens flashing the face of the President.
Duterte, who counts the Speaker as a loyal ally, certified the anti-terror bill as urgent to fast-track its approval.
The anti-terrorism bill would allow warrantless arrests of individuals suspected by the government of being terrorists. It also broadens the definition of terrorism while lessening the restrictions on law enforcement agents who would effect these arrests.
Cayetano was correct when he said that Section 4 of the bill states terrorism “shall not include advocacy, protest, stoppage of work, industrial or mass action, and other similar exercises of civil and political rights.”
But opposition lawmaker and Albay 1st District Represenative Edcel Lagman argued this safeguard is “mere lip service” because it is immediately followed by the proviso that reads, “which are not intended to cause death or serious physical harm to a person, to endanger a person’s life, or to create a serious risk to public safety.”
Lagman argued this could still be prone to abuse by the police and the military.
“This dangerous colatilla can always be used by arresting and prosecuting officers to undermine the supposed safeguard,” he said.
‘Terrorism is not activism’
In the same speech, Cayetano agreed with anti-terror bill critics that activism is not terrorism. But in the same breath, he also said terrorism is not activism.
“So ‘yon pong activism is essential. Hindi magbabago ang mga dapat baguhin sa ating bansa ‘pag walang aktibismo. But let me also make it clear na tama rin ‘yong mga nag-post nito: that terrorism is not activism,” Cayetano said.
(Activism is essential. The things that need to be changed in the country would not have been changed if it weren’t for activism. But let me also make it clear that the people who posted this are correct as well: that terrorism is not activism.)
“So in the same way that we should not persecute or go after the activists in the guise that they are terrorists, kayong mga aktibista, (calling activitists) do not allow the terrorists to hide within your ranks (So in the same way that we should not persecute or go after the activists in the guise that they are terrorists, you activists, do not allow terrorist to hide within your ranks),” he added.
Still, the Speaker assured the public their representatives are willing to listen to their concerns over the anti-terror bill.
The public has been in uproar over the anti-terrorism bill, with various rights groups and concerned citizens arguing the measure would institutionalize Duterte’s abuse of power. (READ: ‘This is not terrorism’: Filipinos take to the streets after anti-terror bill hurdles Congress)
The United Nations Human Rights Office also expressed concern over the bill as it would “risk eroding constitutional and other legal protections.”
Even before the passage of the controversial bill, 7 activists in Cebu City were already arrested by cops for staging a protest against the anti-terror bill. – Rappler.com