CEAP Statement on the Anti-Terrorism Bill
At a time when all of our member-schools are scrambling and fervently looking for ways to survive the economic crisis brought about by COVID-19, the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP), a national association comprising 1,500 Catholic non-stock, non-profit educational institutions, expresses its serious concern on the ill-timed passage of House Bill 6875 as well as the contentious provisions found therein.
When government ought to have been re-calibrating its efforts in uplifting the lives of our countrymen by fast tracking economic recovery bills, it hastily replaced an already existing, albeit problematic, law that combats terrorism.
The CEAP joins the dissent raised by various groups regarding the expansion of the definition of “terrorism” in the proposed law, the harsher penalties on punishable acts which even include life imprisonment without benefit of parole, the composition of the Anti-Terrorism Council as primarily coming from the Executive Branch of government empowered to make judicial determinations on who are the perceived terrorist individuals or groups, the prolonged detention of those found to be violating the provisions of this proposed measure — these are all valid concerns that prompt a re-examination to ensure that the most sacred of freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution are not set aside as empty promises.
While the CEAP recognizes the paramount obligation of the State to combat terrorism, it decries the articulation of those provisions in the bill as they fundamentally conflict with the Catholic tenets of treating each person as created in the image and likeness of God.
As an organization composed of Catholic schools that uphold, among others, the values of integrity and service, the CEAP registers its objection on the inclusion of the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) as “support agencies” of the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) in the bill insofar as the provision is unclear on the extent of support that must be given by these government agencies to the ATC.
Will this designation as “support agencies” empower DepED and/or the CHED to obtain confidential information from schools it regulates?
Will it give the ATC (working with the DepED and CHED) unfettered access to campuses, smoking out individuals or organizations suspected of being “fronts” for terrorist organizations?
Will this spell the demise of free and open discourse in schools insofar as dissent may be pre-judged by state actors as a “terrorist act”?
In solidarity with the Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations (COCOPEA), the CEAP remains firm in safeguarding the constitutionally guaranteed academic freedom of educational institutions and of faculty against any form of suppression.
We pray that the President heed the cries of our people who are struggling to survive because of the pandemic, and veto this particular version of the bill. Listening to the various concerns raised creates an opportunity to work together in crafting a better legislation that effectively combats terrorism without necessarily trampling upon constitutionally protected rights.
In opus ministerii,
Mr. Jose Allan I. Arellano
CEAP Executive Director