Bangsamoro lawyers, law students reject anti-terror bill

Taj Basman

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Bangsamoro lawyers, law students reject anti-terror bill
'We support a just, humane law that will combat terrorism, and aid in our efforts toward a more harmonious and peaceful society. We regret that this is not the anti-terror bill,' say the lawyers, including Bangsamoro government Attorney General Sha Elijah Dumama-Alba

BANGSAMORO LAWYER. Bangsamoro Attorney General Sha Elijah Dumama-Alba. Photo from BARMM

COTABATO CITY, Philippines – Bangsamoro lawyers and law students on Saturday, June 6, expressed their “strong dissent” to the anti-terror bill, saying this would only embolden law enforcers to violate civil liberties.

“We support a just, humane law that will combat terrorism, and aid in our efforts toward a more harmonious and peaceful society. We regret that this is not the anti-terror bill. We reject,” they said in a statement initially signed by 40 people.

“We condemn terrorism. However, as lawyers, students of the law, and human rights advocates, we likewise know all too well that overzealous desire to capture the enemy, when sanctioned by law that is bereft of any procedural and substantive safeguards to protect the innocent, is just as dangerous to our lives, liberties, and freedoms,” they added.

The signatories include Bangsamoro government Attorney General Sha Elijah Dumama-Alba,  Rasol Mitmug Jr, and Anna Basman of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority, and Abdulnasser Badrudin, Chairperson of the Bangsamoro Human Rights Commission.

The group said that they themselves experienced first-hand the devastation caused by terrorists, as what happened in Marawi City, where they lost their homes and their entire communities.

“If there is anybody in this nation who vehemently desires to put an end to terrorism, it is us – Moros,” they said.

The group cited the anti-terror bill’s “overly broad definition of terrorism that unduly penalizes activities which are legitimate exercise of constitutionally protected freedoms.”

“We shudder to think how our congregational prayers, khutbahs, and halaqas might be seen as inciting to terrorist acts by oblivious persons in authority,” the group said.

“We are scared for our youth who may be unsuspectingly going about their business in school or work, only to find out eventually (or never) that their every step is being monitored by state agents – who now have the legal cover to do so – when their only ‘crime’ is being Muslim,” they added.

The group also cited the controversial provision on warrantless arrests.

“In a legal and social environment that already tolerates de facto warrantless arrests against Moros, this law legalizes it. Without any safeguard against unlawful arrests, state agents will not only be authorized but also emboldened to trample on our freedom. Law enforcers need not fear any repercussions if they wrongly deprive citizens of their liberty,” they said.

Earlier this year, the District Community Affairs, and Development Division of the PNP Manila Police District released a memorandum ordering its station commanders to submit a list of names of Muslim students in high school, colleges, and universities in their respective areas “as part of the strengthening of peacebuilding and counter violent extremism of the PNP.”

The memorandum was later recalled amid an outcry from various groups.

Prone to abuses

Bangsamoro government Attorney General Sha Elijah Alba, one of the signatories to the statement, said the country’s existing legal framework is already “flawed” and prone to abuses.

“’Yun ngang ngayon pa lang na wala ‘yang anti-terror bill na ‘yan, may mga planting na ng evidence (Even now when we don’t have that anti-terror bill yet, there is already planting of evidence). So now, you are legislating something that encroaches upon the power of the judiciary,” Alba said.

She said the bill institutionalizes impunity. “Nobody has to be accountable for things that happen just because a law provides that it can be done,” she said.

Section 29 of the anti-terror bill allows warrantless arrests of suspects for 14 days which can be extended with an additional 10 days. It also removes the P500,000-penalty for every day of wrongful prosecution.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front-led Bangsamoro government was established in 2019 after a plebiscite enacted the Bangsamoro Organic Law.

“Double marginalization on our part, na pino-protect natin ‘yung constituency ng Moro communities pero we are weaponizing something na pwede natin silang i-discriminate against as a government,” Alba said.

(It will become double marginalization on our part – we are protecting our constituency, the Moro communities, but we are weaponizing something that can be used by the government to discriminate them.)

“The evil that you are seeking to stop is going to be the same evil that you are sowing for your country,” she added, emphasizing that the proposed bill might be counter-productive as it might nurture a climate of terrorism. “The nature of terrorism is ever-changing.” 

Various groups, including business groups, are opposed to the anti-terror bill as they fear it would be used to stifle dissent. ([EXPLAINER] Proposed Anti-Terror Act of 2020 a devil’s playground in the hands of a despot)

Congress has yet to transmit the bill to Malacañang as of posting.

Read the full statement here:


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