The Anti-Terrorism Law Part II

“Let no one be in any doubt. The rules of the game are changing.” — Ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair in the aftermath of the July 2005 bombings in London.

So is the new Philippine Anti-Terrorism Law about to change the rules of the game ? Lets look at the some of the features of Human Security Act of 2007 (“HSA”). It covers all the bad guys, from pirates to litterbugs, who are “capable of sowing and creating a condition of widespread and extraordinary fear and panic among the populace” (Section 3, which defines “Terrorism”). This is a pretty broad definition. But its qualified by the following phrase: “in order to coerce the government to give in to an unlawful demand”. Thus, a terrorist must have a political agenda. So while Manny Pacquio in a tutu might cause extraordinary fear and panic, he won’t qualify as a terrorist unless he a political objective in mind.

The HSA also takes pains to emphasize that in the implementation of the State’s anti-terror policy, it “shall uphold the basic rights and fundamental liberties of the people as enshrined in the Constitution” and “the exercise of the constitutionally recognized powers of the executive department of the government shall not prejudice respect for human rights which shall be absolute and protected at all times”. These motherhood statements serve as an introduction to R.A. No. 9372 and are intended to reassure everyone that the law will not be misused. Why then is everyone so jittery ?

The obvious answer is that the Arroyo administration does not have a good track record when it comes to respecting human rights. Either through secret directives, acquiescence or simple ineptitude and lack of concern, this government has allowed the agents of State power to run amok and disregard individual rights altogether. Extra-judicial killings, a significant number of which are plainly politically-motivated, have become commonplace. The list of desaparecidos grows longer by the day. And now the Arroyo government has a new weapon to use against what it perceives to be enemies of the State. The President has been quoted as saying that the law will go into effect regardless of whether its implementing rules and regulations are in place or not.

Another objection to the HSA is the most fundamental argument against any piece of new legislation: it has vague and sweeping provisions. In the context of its intended application, this is very dangerous. For example , who determines the existence of “an actual or imminent terrorist attack” such as would justify warrantless arrests and detention without charges ? Can the President make such a declaration and thus authorize mass arrests ? Or should it be the Anti-Terrorism Council (which is composed of cabinet secretaries and are all therefore alter egos of the President) ?

And whoever thought of the name “Human Security Act” is an expert at doublespeak. What the hell does “human security” mean ? The law doesn’t say but we can all come up with our own definitions. Gen. Palparan has his own definition as does Satur Ocampo and the two Secretary Gonzaleses (both members of the ATC)and the Abu Sayyaf.

So will the HSA change the rules of the game ? Definitely and in ways we never imagined or expected.

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