CBCP-BEC Statement on the Anti-Terrorism Bill
We, the members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines – Committee on Basic Ecclesial Communities (CBCP-BEC), serve as an ecclesial body that coordinates the BECs or neighbourhood-based faith communities in the Parishes all over the country. Majority of our members are poor and marginalized living among and with the indigenous peoples, believers of other faiths, and even members of other churches. In solidarity, we endeavour to promote and build up God’s Kingdom of justice and love, peace and total human development in today’s society.
After reflecting on the nature, scope and intent of the Anti-Terrorism Bill, and studying its ramifications in the light of BECs’ life context, we express our disagreement towards this Bill. To begin with, it is a deflection or deviation from the life-issues of our people.
1. Deflection from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our grassroots communities are the ones most affected by the pandemic. Fear is present everywhere. Fear that the spread of the virus might escalate. Fear on the uncertainties that the “new normal” holds for them. The trauma inflicted by the pandemic on the poor and the marginalized is immense and they do not need another law to add to that nor repress their dissatisfaction of what they are going through.
2. Deflection from the priority of economic survival. Our grassroots communities are the most vulnerable to the worsening poverty of the country. They are the ones directly hit by the “No work, No pay” policies. Many of them lost their jobs, or if not, finding it difficult to return to their previous employment due to lack of transportation, company’s reduction of workers or work hours. Fresh graduates are uncertain of employment. Joblessness is shackling every home and community. Government efforts must focus on prioritizing the economic recovery of its people and not on this Anti-Terrorism Bill which is not an answer to the country’s economic malaise.
3. Deflection from the continuing struggle of the Indigenous Peoples and pressing ecological concerns. Indigenous Peoples and those helping them are most vulnerable to red-tagging. What the IP’s need are laws that will truly respond to their unduly neglected socio-cultural concerns like land problems, human rights violations, etc., that continue to cause them social unrest and poverty, and not laws that will further degrade them nor opportunities to use and abuse them. Furthermore, we are in the climate emergency situation which highly exposes everyone, especially the poor, to tragic and fearful calamities. There is an intimate connection between the emergence of the COVID-19 and the worsening of unhealthy ecosystem. Hence, the government must seriously address these ecological concerns as one of the post-pandemic measures to avoid another pandemic, rather than the Anti-Terrorism Bill.
4. Deflection from our treasured values as Filipinos. The current pandemic has highlighted again and again our core values of “bayanihan, pananagutan, pagmamalasakit, pagtitiwala at pananalig sa Diyos”. Aside from the government’s “ayuda” programs. Both big and small corporations, NGOs, families, and even simple individuals did their share in responding to the crying needs of the victims of the pandemic. The government must find ways to reinforce these efforts in order to build up a post-pandemic nation instead of the Anti-Terrorism Bill which instils suspicion and fear to the poor and the marginalized who are very prone to abuses of those in power especially that this Bill contains several questionable provisions.
Furthermore, we do not accept the Anti-Terrorism Bill due to the following technical provisions that are reprehensive and can be detrimental to our lives as grassroots communities and rights as citizens of this country:
1. Defining “Terrorism.” Though the Bill expressly exclude “advocacy, protest, dissent, stoppage of work, industrial or mass action, and other similar exercises of civil and political rights”, the rest of the document does not clearly define what “terrorism” is.
2. Surveillance. Any military personnel or law enforcement agent can wiretap and “overhear and listen to, intercept, screen, read” any “communications, discussions, data, information, messages” from any available technology for any “suspected terrorist”. With the development in technology, these are easily accessible. In itself, this is a clear violation of a person’s right to privacy.
3. Detention. The Anti-Terror Council (ATC) can order arrest by mere finding of “probable cause” without a warrant of arrest from a legitimate Court. The suspect’s assets can also be frozen upon order of ATC. One can be arrested without charges up to 14 days, and can still be extended to 10 more days, as the law enforcers continue to build up the case.
4. Respect for Human Rights. With the danger of weaponizing the law against critics and other vulnerable population like the drug addicts and poor farmers and lumad, all the above loopholes in the Act can easily be instrumentalized by people in power for their own interests and benefits. In fact, this Act awakens the memory of the BEC leaders and members whose rights were violated, some of them disappeared and some were killed, during that repressive rule of the dictatorship in the past.
We, in the CBCP-BEC, commit ourselves to the ongoing education of our members to human rights and civic responsibilities. We encourage our members to fearlessly report human rights abuses, relentlessly protect the victims especially those in grassroots communities, and untiringly help those victims seeking legal aid. We also urge our members to continue to be vigilant and critical against any move that suppresses our human rights or tramples underfoot our dignity as human persons and children of God
We continue to hope that our government officials will listen to the growing voices of the poor and marginalized and the concerned citizens – their constituents and true bosses – who gave them the privilege and power to craft and enact laws based on right reason and good intention for the benefit of all and not just the selected few. We also pray that they prioritize those things that are truly needed for the nation’s recovery from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and not those that please the hunger for power of those in office.
Rev. Msgr. Manuel G. Gabriel
CBCP-BEC Executive Secretary