The University of the Philippines Diliman (UPD), through its Executive Committee, unequivocally opposes the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 that is awaiting the signature of President Rodrigo R. Duterte. Because UP is the national university, the country’s urgent concerns are the university’s concerns. These include policies and laws that are deleterious to our people’s rights and welfare. It is in this context that we are compelled to take a stand on the Anti-Terrorism Act.
Last June 5, Friday, Cebu City’s police violently dispersed a peaceful protest against the Anti-Terrorism Bill being held at the vicinity of UP Cebu, pursued and arrested eight (8) protesters within the campus. This was in violation of the 1989 UP-DND Peace Accord, which prevents the police and the military from conducting any operations inside any UP campus without prior coordination with UP officials. We condemn the suppression of legitimate protest and the violation of UP campuses as recognized sanctuaries for political dissent. The police claimed that the protesters violated quarantine protocols on social distancing and the prohibition of mass assemblies. This post hoc rationalization by the police illustrates further the weakness of the arguments now being put forth by some legislators and executive officials that the law will not be used against legitimate protests.
Fully documented cases of police excess lead us to the conclusion that the law will not be applied judiciously but rather will give further space for a police force that is very much in need for professionalization and re-orientation. The supposed safeguards of the bill are not satisfactory and acceptable because they can be availed of only after the damage has been done to persons against whom the law has been applied. These even make it more prone to abuse.
We are extremely disturbed by legal provisions in the Act that contravene the democratic spirit of the 1987 Constitution. We note in particular the threat it poses to the freedom of expression, freedom of association, the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, the right against unlawful arrest and arbitrary detention, our right against unlawful searches and seizures, due process of law, privacy of communications and correspondence, the right to information, and the right not to be subject to an ex-post facto law or bill of attainder. It also violates the principle of separation of powers. Its expansive definition of “terrorism” practically covers all forms of dissent, including lawful protests and criticism. The Act unduly chills free expression as the expansive definition of crimes may cover legitimate forms of dissent. It empowers a handful of Cabinet officials comprising the Anti-Terrorism Council to unilaterally designate an individual or organization as “terrorist.” Courts are authorized to issue a “preliminary order of proscription” against individuals and organizations deemed “terrorist” and thus outlawed, without the benefit of full trial. It unduly expands the coercive power of the State by allowing for unwarranted warrantless arrests and prolonged detention on executive order, wiretapping of suspected offenders, and freezing of their assets and travel restriction, without notice, trial, and conviction.
The proposed Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 reduces the safeguards embedded in the Human Security Act of 2007 to exact accountability from abusive persons in authority. To illustrate, the bill removed the provision that imposes a penalty on law enforcers of P500,000.00 per day of wrongful detention of suspects. Moreover, persons acquitted of terrorism charges can no longer seek damages from the government for the seizure of their funds, assets or properties.
Rather than eliminate terrorism by addressing its root causes, the Act will merely embolden law enforcement agencies in disregarding constitutionally protected human rights. While we have witnessed heroism and kindness from many of our government workers during the pandemic, we are however, deeply troubled by stories of arrests and unlawful detention of critics of the Act.
As an institution that has produced countless public servants, professionals and activists, UP Diliman believes that academic excellence requires conditions of openness and respect for diversity. These conditions include that the freedom to question, think, write, and speak is granted to all, regardless of beliefs and background. Academic and political freedom includes the freedom to challenge orthodoxies and established ways of thinking and acting without fear of repression or punitive action.
It is in this light that we oppose the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020. Consistent with the 1987 Constitution, we must uphold the right of every Filipino to criticize, protest and demand accountability from public officials without fear of being branded and persecuted as “terrorist.” We express our severe disappointment in our legislators who, instead of uniting our people to fight against the global threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, have chosen to waste time and resources on this proposed law.
We call on President Duterte to veto the said bill, and urge him to instead direct government attention and resources to fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and helping our people rise from the resulting economic and social dislocation.
[The UP Diliman Executive Committee is chaired by the Chancellor and is composed of the Deans and heads of UPD units, the University Registrar and the Vice Chancellors.]
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