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[OPINION] Martial rule without martial law: An anti-terror bill subtext

I could not have said it better. Senate President Tito Sotto made my main point when he said there is no more need for martial law if the anti-terror law passes. Etta Rosales, Akbayan Chair emeritus, made the same point from the opposing side when she said that the bill brings back Marcos’ anti-subversion law. Duterte has what he wants. It remains to be seen how far he can take its uses. 

There are many analyses of the bill itself. We need to track down its sources, the motives of its proponents. The main proponents of this bill are the military and police. “These powers were all that generals have been talking about for the past several years. It's a longtime bid to repeal the Human Security Act (HSA) of 2007, which has more safeguards to prevent possible abuses, but which the police and military found too cumbersome that they claimed the law effectively aided terrorists.” 

After torpedoing the peace process with the NDF (National Democratic Front), the military has gone all out against it. Unable to make much headway militarily against the New Peoples Army (NPA), they have focused on open national democratic organizations and sympathetic groups. Many have been arrested, some killed outright by unidentified killers not unlike those killed in the anti-drug war. The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) has launched local peace talks and propaganda campaigns. 

The implementation of “anti-terrorist” campaigns will be run by the military and police. The Anti-terrorism Council is dominated by retired generals in the cabinet. The council secretariat will be run by the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA). It was NICA Director General Alex Monteagudo, a retired police general, who pushed for a 90-day surveillance period. Duterte himself has been directly involved. After the collapse of peace talks in December 2017, he announced that he would “go after the legal fronts” of the CPP. 

While the impetus for the anti-terror bill has been provided by the military, it fits right into Duterte’s push for greater control. The military is preoccupied with counterinsurgency, Duterte with his pet peeves such as Senator Leila De Lima, and with blunting the opposition’s moves. Even the administration’s work on the pandemic has been militarized. The anti-terror bill will provide both the military and Duterte with a useful tool.

An official act of terrorism

It was Rappler columnist Vergel Santos who calls the bill “an official act of terrorism.” “…at the height of a pandemic that has needed no official help in scaring people and keeping families, along with their furloughed breadwinners, locked down at home, the regime has deployed its police and troops; they are out in the streets in disproportionate numbers prepared to meet anyone who might be driven by hunger and desperation to venture out of lockdown in search of family sustenance.... What manner of mind could manage yet to think of terrorism of any kind other than that perpetrated randomly and on the scale of a pandemic by a deadly virus? Only a one-track mind could, one that thinks a pandemic is a job for generals too.”

The way the bill was rushed has been one reason for suspicion. The Senate version was shepherded by Senator Panfilo Lacson, himself an ex-police general. They managed to persuade even Senator Frank Drilon to support it by threatening to remove safeguards he put in the bill. In the end, only two senators, Liberal Party leader Kiko Pangilinan and Akbayan’s Risa Hontiveros opposed. The House of Representatives dropped its own bills to adopt the Senate version. Then, the leadership allowed no amendments at the plenary.

Many congressmen cast their votes without understanding what was happening. They voted yes to the proposed new law, expressed reservations when they explained their votes, and promised to fix the measure at the bicameral conference committee hearing. But since the two houses had the same version, there was no need for a bicam. As a result, after the bill passed, several rushed to deny responsibility: Antique Rep. Loren Legarda, Agusan del Norte Rep. Lawrence Fortun, and Muntinlupa Rep. Ruffy Biazon. Albay second district Rep. Joey Salceda, among others, changed their vote.

Another reason for opposing the bill is the regime’s record of consistently operating outside of the confines of law. The most egregious have been EJKs, the now more-than-3-year imprisonment of Senator Leila De Lima, the removal of Chief Justice Sereno. Closer to the issue, the regime has used so-called terrorist/subversive lists to harass its political enemies. In a petition filed in a Manila court in February 2018, the Department of Justice submitted a 55-page list of more than 600 “subversives” including Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people. This petition was later withdrawn after the government admitted that the list had not been carefully vetted.

In May 2019, Malacanang Spokesperson Sal Panelo released a diagram of “conspirators” plotting against the Duterte government which included among others, former presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, Senator Antonio Trillanes, journalist Ellen Tordesillas, and whole organizations including the Liberal Party, Magdalo, and media groups Rappler, Vera Files, and Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism. At the time, no charges were filed. But with the new law, such accusations could be given due course.

Resistance

Opposition has been widespread, many surprising groups and individuals have taken strong stances. Two former Miss Universe beauty queens? American pop icon Taylor Swift? Vice Ganda? The question is why and where it will push political dynamics in the near term. It is unlikely to force the regime to back down, though I would be happy to admit I am wrong. But Philippine politics in the medium term, stretching towards the 2022 elections, is going to be beyond expectations. (READ: Bangsamoro lawyers, law students reject anti-terror bill)

The extent of opposition to the anti-terror bill is the result of many factors. The problems with the bill itself are blatant. It is also the result of an accumulation of authoritarian moves by the administration, its abuse of the legal system, Duterte’s open admiration for dictators from Hitler to Marcos. De Lima’s persecution remains a gut issue for many. The closure of ABS-CBN pushed 11,000 employees, millions of listeners, and the most popular pop stars into opposition.

Vice President Leni Robredo, the Liberal Party, Akbayan, Magdalo, Tindig Pilipinas, and national democratic organizations are to be expected in opposition. Also on the list of “to be expected”: lawyers’ groups, the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers (NUPL), Concerned Lawyers for Civil Liberties (CLCL), Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), the Ateneo Human Rights Center (AHRC). What should be noted is the breadth and intensity of opposition. This is a much broader range of opposition than on any other issue under the Duterte administration. (READ: Rappler Talk: Edcel Lagman on the dangers of the anti-terrorism bill)

Business groups, led by the Makati Business Club, Management Association of the Philippines (MAP), and the Bishops-Businessmen’s Conference joined 5 other business groups in opposition. Hesitant to respond to repeated attacks by Duterte in the past, Catholic church groups have come out strongly. Twenty Catholic and other Christian church personalities, led by Bishop Broderick S. Pabillo, D.D., Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Manila came out with a strong statement. The Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines, came out with an official statement signed by Fr. Cielito Almazan, OFM & Sr. Marilyn Java, RC AMRSP Co-Chairpersons.

What inspired me is the response of young people. UP basketball star Kobe Paras led other UP players Javi and Juan Gomez de Liaño, Ricci Rivero, Jun Manzo, and Paul Desiderio not only in opposing the anti-terror bill but pledging to raise funds for activists jailed in Cebu. They were joined by Ateneo star Thirdy Ravena and University of Santo Tomas skipper CJ Cansino. Other young athletes included Jamie Lim, the country’s karate gold medalist in last year’s Southeast Asian Games and an Olympic hopeful.

Inquirer columnist Randy David has an insightful take on the reaction of young people. “For the generation born after 1972, martial law existed largely in the imagination. Today, they have a concrete idea of what it means for the state and its agents to have control over nearly every aspect of everyday life. They do not like what they see, and they are determined to resist any attempt to normalize it.” Randy has been happy to be led on the issue by his 19-year-old grand daughter. (READ: Close to home: Daughter of slain activist warns anti-terror bill will 'normalize' killings)

I am impressed by and deeply proud of Nicky and Joao Solis, my grandnephews. Bringing the issue literally close to home, they wrote a statement for their family. “Our family stands for human rights. We oppose the anti-terror bill…We stand against measures of extraordinary rendition and warrantless arrest which threaten to tear apart families by imprisoning fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters without ever providing them a day in court to access their right to due process…We stand in solidarity with the human rights activists, protestors, and student groups who this bill seeks to silence. We raise our voice up along with yours.” – Rappler.com 

Joel Rocamora is a political analyst and a seasoned civil society leader. An activist-scholar, he finished his PhD in Politics, Asian Studies, and International Relations in Cornell University, and had been the head of the Institute for Popular Democracy, the Transnational Institute, and the Akbayan Citizens’ Action Party. He worked in government under former president Benigo Aquino III as the Lead Convenor of the National Anti-Poverty Commission.