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[OPINION] Who’s afraid of the new anti-terrorism law?

Teddy Casiño
[OPINION] Who’s afraid of the new anti-terrorism law?
'They can tap my phone, record my conversations, read my emails, hack my internet accounts, take photos and videos of anything I do for 30-60 days'

I am not a terrorist. 

I have never participated in nor have espoused any act of terror or mayhem in my life. I do not own a gun or any weapon save for a few kitchen knives. I am not a member of any armed group nor am I engaged in or calling for an armed attack against the government, any private institution, person, or organization.  

Yet still, I am afraid that under the new anti-terrorism law approved by Congress and awaiting the President’s signature, I can and will most likely be suspected, tagged, surveilled, charged, arrested, and detained as a terrorist, possibly even members of my family, relatives, friends, and acquaintances. (READ: Duterte ‘inclined’ to sign anti-terror bill – Roque)

A “rebel” at 3

My fear is based on personal experience. In February of 2006, as then congressman for the partylist Bayan Muna, I was charged with a trumped up case of rebellion, along with 5 members of the progressive partylist bloc in Congress and 11 others. This was after the widespread anti-government protests on the anniversary of the EDSA People Power Uprising, with President Arroyo  declaring a state of national emergency. (READ: [OPINION] Martial rule without martial law: An anti-terror bill subtext)

The main allegation was that we were in a conspiracy with the Magdalo group of military adventurists to overthrow the Arroyo government.  

Strangely, among the acts of rebellion attributed to the “Batasan 6,” as we were called, was the Plaza Miranda bombing of 1971. When I pointed out that I was just 3 years old at that time and still wearing diapers, then Secretary of Justice Raul Gonzales replied that even so, such things were a matter of defense that have to be proven in court. 

On the theory that rebellion was a continuing crime, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Inter Agency Legal Action Group (IALAG) dug up everything it had on the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) to use against us. I saw at least 3 feet worth of evidentiary documents presented by the prosecutors.  

Every act in furtherance of rebellion, from the re-establishment of the CPP in 1968, the numerous ambushes of its New People’s Army (NPA) from as far back as the 1970s, to confiscated notebooks of activists attending teach-ins and meetings were presented as evidence against us, being alleged leaders of the communist rebellion.

Everyone knew the charges were absurd and totally false. Their sole witness testified that he was defecating by the wayside somewhere in Batangas, hidden in the talahib, when he happened to positively identify 6 of us members of Congress and several Magdalo rebels supposedly plotting Arroyo’s ouster. Fortunately on that day, were were all present in Congress as shown by attendance records and the House CCTV footages.

And yet the IALAG, composed of the DOJ, the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA), the Philippine National Police, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and just about every law enforcement agency in the country, had the gall to file such an absurd case. 

The courts, presuming regularity, dutifully issued arrest warrants against us. Five of us managed to elude arrest and were granted protective custody in the House for 71 days until the cases were dismissed. One of us, Crispin “Ka Bel” Beltran, was arrested on his way to Congress, charged with an additional charge of inciting to sedition, and suffered detention for a year and 4 months before his cases were dismissed. 

A “terrorist” at 51

Today, I am not simply tagged a rebel. Due to my involvement in various activist groups and advocacies, I am repeatedly labeled a communist terrorist by no less than top officials of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).  

Of course no evidence is presented, save for “intelligence information” and “as told to me by informants and NPA surrenderees.” And since they know that just like in 2006 their allegations won’t stand in court, they have not charged me again. 

All that can change if the new anti-terrorism law is enacted. 

Under the new measure, they will not have to prove the elements of rebellion to arrest and charge me with terrorism. All they have to allege is that I have committed acts that intend to, say, interfere with critical infrastructure like a main road or damage a public facility, thus endangering public safety, with the purpose of intimidating the government or seriously destabilizing the political order (as activists are won’t to do), and viola, I can be charged with terrorism. 

If that’s too complicated, how about this: they can allege that my organization, the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, is a terrorist front organization and therefore as an officer of said group, I am conspiring with terrorists or providing them material support. 

And if that is still too difficult, once they proscribe or designate the CPP as a terrorist group, they will simply allege that as a member, I am in violation of the law with a penalty of life imprisonment without benefit of parole or good conduct time allowance.

I don’t even have to be convicted to suffer the law’s harsh provisions. Once suspected of committing, proposing, threatening, inciting, conspiring, or supporting terrorism, or being a member of a terrorist group, I can be arrested without warrant and no charges from 14-24 days. 

Not only that, they can tap my phone, record my conversations, read my emails, hack my internet accounts, take photos and videos of anything I do for 30-60 days. 

On orders of the Anti-Terrorism Council, I can be arbitrarily and unilaterally designated as a terrorist, my bank accounts and assets frozen as I rot in detention. 

Wait, there’s more. 

Once charged, if the evidence is weak, I can be granted bail but I won’t be allowed to travel out of the city or municipality where my case is being heard. If placed under house arrest, I will be prohibited from using the phone, the internet, nor communicate with anyone outside my house.

Turning fantastic plots into charges 

In October 2017, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, in an unprecedented attempt at red-tagging, revealed the existence of a so-called “Red October Plot” to overthrow President Duterte. The alleged plotters included the CPP-NPA-NDFP, the Liberal Party, the Magdalo group, Tindig Pilipinas, the Movement Against Tyranny, and several colleges and universities. 

This was followed a year later by the leak of a “matrix” of journalists and lawyers supposedly involved in a plot to discredit Duterte through the now infamous Bikoy videos on the First Family’s alleged involvement in illegal drugs.

The matrix later morphed into a case for inciting to sedition filed against Vice President Leni Robredo, a number of priests and bishops, and senatorial candidates of the opposition Otso Diretso. 

Of late, even the public outcry against the closure of ABS-CBN was tagged as a communist plot. 

Such repeated scenarios linking progressive groups, the opposition, the critical press, and just about anyone critical of the Duterte regime to the armed communist movement in an alleged plot against the President shows the extent to which authorities are willing to go to discredit and silence dissent. With the anti-terrorism law, such fantastic tales can be easily considered acts in pursuit of terrorism, its wide net of suspected plotters subject to the law’s draconian powers and penalties. (READ: No to anti-terror bill? DILG employees ‘advised’ against posting on social media)

Of course, as it usually happens, such trumped up charges usually end up dismissed. What is difficult, however, is the long and arduous process one has to go through while detained and awaiting the final outcome of the case. 

A weapon against dissent

In the final analysis, the new anti-terrorism law is a weapon against dissent, targeting those who are a pain in Duterte’s neck but who are not committing rebellion, sedition, or anything illegal.

Particularly vulnerable are anti-government organizations and persons pursuing their advocacies in the legal, parliamentary arena, or those who are simply “nakursunadahan” by the authorities. A mere intelligence report, a single testimony or piece of evidence linking them to the NPA, the Abu Sayyaf, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, or any armed group, can open the door to the use of the law’s harsh and vast powers of intimidation and persecution. 

Anyone who values dissent, who believes in due process and human rights, and who knows the dangers of giving immense powers to a fascist regime, should be afraid. – Rappler.com

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