Bacolod bishop urges Duterte: Listen to the people, veto anti-terror bill

Marchel P. Espina
Bacolod bishop urges Duterte: Listen to the people, veto anti-terror bill
'We feel that there is a need for this government to listen to its people and in turn reconsider and reassess the bill in its present form. There is no point rushing the process,' says Bishop Patricio Buzon of the Diocese of Bacolod

BACOLOD CITY, Philippines – Bishop Patricio Buzon of the Diocese of Bacolod called on President Rodrigo Duterte to “immediately veto” the anti-terror bill.

In a statement that read to the youth protesters at the Bishop’s House during the 122nd Independence Day commemoration on Friday, June 12, Buzon said, “We call on the President to immediately veto this anti-terror bill for want of a wider consultation that will hopefully hurdle the opposing perspectives, answer the questions, and put to rest the confusion haunting it,” he said.

“With the mounting objections raised by legal luminaries, academicians and rights groups against the anti-terrorism bill, particularly with some of its provisions, the more, we, as Church, are concerned of ‘the rights’ which might be endangered and compromised by the legislation at bar,” Buzon also said.

Questionable provisions of the bill include the vagueness of its definition of terrorism, the  powers of the Anti-Terrorism Council, and issues regarding judicial determination in making arrests and detention duration, Buzon said. (READ: Can lawyers’ growing calls vs anti-terror bill be crossroads for Duterte?)

“Moreover, with a number of our lawmakers pulling out their sponsorship of the measure due to increasing pressure from their constituents, all the more, we feel that there is a need for this government to listen to its people and in turn reconsider and reassess the bill in its present form. There is no point rushing the process,” he said. 

He pointed out that there are so many other pressing concerns like public health and safety, and economic recovery that the government needs to immediately attend to, instead of focusing its resources on this “contentious legislation.” (READ: Robredo: Why rush anti-terror bill during pandemic?)

Buzon said the Diocese of Bacolod will continue to listen in faith, and will speak if called for. “This we believe is our prophetic role – to proclaim what we are as Church, that is, to uphold the sanctity of life and the rights of every individual that accompany and safeguard it so that every person lives life in its fullness,” he added.

Proud

During his meeting with the youth, Buzon praised them for being “sensitive on matters that really matter.” 

He said the celebration of Independence Day is very significant because the youth protesters showed concern for freedom. “I never felt so proud of our young people,” the bishop said. 

He said the reason why they were so passionate about the controversial bill was because if they lose their freedom, they stand to lose everything

Youth protester Krishna Ariola, founding member of Hilway Youth Organization, said she was very happy that the Bishop took a stand against the anti-terror bill. She said he met with them, and prayed over them.

Youth-led protest 

Different youth organizations under the Bacolod Youth Alliance conducted simultaneous Independence Day protests in 5 areas – the public plaza, Fountain of Justice, Rizal Park, in front of ABS-CBN station, and the office of Bacolod City Representative Greg Gasataya. 

The youth groups, joined by student leaders and human rights advocates and activists, called for the protection of freedom and democracy in the country, in the light of the anti-terrorism bill that had been prioritized by the administration even as it struggled to control the spread of COVID-19.

They also called for mass testing, and for the government to address pressing issues such as the neglect of essential workers, delay of social amelioration due to government incompetence and corruption, and students left behind due to the inaccessibility of “new normal” education, and the ABS-CBN shutdown.

Ariola said there was an intensified presence of the military in the public plaza, while policemen in camouflage uniforms manned the Fountain of Justice and Rizal Park.

She said the policemen attempted to disperse them, claiming they held an illegal assembly, but they explained to them that they strictly followed health protocols and that each rally site had less than 10 protesters.

Curtailment of freedom 

Bacolod City Councilor Wilson Gamboa Jr also joined the Independence Day protest of the cause-oriented groups. 

NEGOTIATION. Bacolod City Councilor Wilson Gamboa Jr (right) negotiates with cops to allow the protest of the cause-oriented groups to continue. Photo courtesy of Gino Lopez

He said the initial rally site was at the Fountain of Justice but due to the presence of the police, the groups decided to hold it at the Bishop’s House. They marched from the Bishop’s House to the Fountain of Justice and back to the Bishop’s House, for a short program. 

Initially, policemen tried to disperse the group, but Gamboa negotiated with them and explained that the more than 20 rallyists were not causing any inconvenience to the public and that they practiced social distancing.

Gamboa, who authored the city council’s resolution expressing its gravest reservation over the anti-terror bill early this week, said the bill is a “curtailment of our basic liberty and freedom.” He echoed the view of lawyers’ groups and other legal experts that the bill had unconstitutional provisions. (READ: IBP: Veto non-judicial arrests and 24-day detention in anti-terror bill)

Meanwhile, Bayan Negros and Karapatan Negros denounced the railroaded anti-terror bill, saying this would “institutionalize fascism, martial law, and gross violations of human rights.” 

Under the terror bill, anyone can be tagged as a terrorist based on the vague definition of terrorism in the measure, and subjects anyone to grave human rights violations and abuses, they said.

“It is clear that this bill is intended to be used against activists, oppositions and critics of the anti-people policies of the Duterte regime,” they added.

They also called on Negrenses “to be vigilant and resist all moves that violate our basic human rights enshrined in our Constitution using this bill.”

The Office of the Chief Presidential Counsel has recommended the signing of the anti-terror bill, which is also being reviewed by the Department of Justice.  – Rappler.com