LAW DOES NOT TARGET REGIONAL, ETHNIC GROUPS
By ROGER M. BALANZA
The Philippine government has assured that the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 would specifically target terror groups, not regional or ethnic groups, to secure the country against terrorist violence.
The bill, that replaced the Home Security Act of 2007, seeks to sharpen the country’s fangs to curb terrorism, which remains as a major threat to peace and order.
President Rodrigo Duterte signed into law on Friday, July 3, the bill that seeks to give the country more teeth to curb terrorism.
Compared to the anti-terrorist HSA of 2007, the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 is clawed with harsher provisions that could end two evils that for years rattled peace and order and stalled economic development in the Philippine southern island of Mindanao: the communist insurgency and the violent Moro extremist groups.
The New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the National Democratic Front (NDF), the umbrella of left-leaning groups, continues to sow mayhem and terror in the countrysides of several regions.
Mindanao is also home to several Moro terror groups, including the Maute Group, Abu Sayyaf Gtoup (ASG), the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), Ansarul Khilafah Philippines (AKP) and the local cell of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Middle East-based group considered as the most dangerous international terror group. Military said ISIS is expanding operations worldwide, eyeing the Philippines as its province (caliphate) and the center of its terrorist activities in the Southeast Asian region. The most violent terrorist adventure of the local groups, backed by the ISIS, was the 7-month siege of Marawi City, the Philippines’ Muslim capital, in 2017.
Several groups, including the political opposition, human rights advocates, Moro leaders opposed the bill fearing potential violations of human rights.
The Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 allows detention of suspected terrorists for up to 24 days sans a warrant of arrest; 60-day surveillance with an allowable 30-day extension that can be conducted by the police or the military against suspected terrorists; imposes a 12-year jail term on a person who voluntarily or knowingly joins a terrorist organization.
A day before Duterte signed the bill, the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) Parliament of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) passed a resolution appealing to the President to veto the bill to allow a review by Congress.
Parliament Resolution 239 expressed “grave concern” over the passage of the bill but “respectfully appealing” to the President to veto Senate Bill 1083 and House Bill 6875 to “provide Congress the opportunity to review and address the issues of vagueness, overbreadth and other concerns.”
Resolution 239 stemmed from a letter sent to the 80-member Parliament by Chief Minister Ahod “Al Haj Muraj” Ebrahim on June 22, stating his position on the issue and calling on the President to “exercise his veto power vis-à-vis the Anti-Terrorism Bill.”
Ebrahim said that while we (Bangsamoro people) ” agree that a policy framework needs to be enacted to fight the menace of terrorism, we feel that the fundamental guarantees of liberty and the institutions of democracy must be protected.”
Ebrahim is chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the biggest Moro group that front-lined the latest peace talks with government that led to the approval by Congress of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL)and the creation of the BARMM.
In his letter to the Parliament, Ebrahim said the MILF “condemn(s) terrorism and have worked consistently to fight it but as the Chief Minister of the Bangsamoro “I cannot help but be alarmed by the language and foreseeable consequences of the proposed Anti-Terrorism Bill,” noting that it “stems from the long history of persecution, human rights violations, and discrimination suffered by the Bangsamoro.”
Ebrahim said the Bangsamoro leaders have raised worry that the anti-terror bill, once enacted into law, would lead to the rise in “incidents of violations of human rights” and would once again subject Bangsamoro people to “discrimination and abuse.”
“As the leader of a political entity born out of the struggle against injustice and oppression, it is my moral duty to speak out in order to ensure the measures intended to address terrorism will not be used as a means to subvert the fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals, in general, and normalize abuse and discrimination against the Bangsamoro, in particular,” Ebrahim said.
But presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the Anti-Terrorism Act targets only terrorists and allayed the fears of the Bangsamoro leaders’ concerns over its passage.
Roque said the anti-terror law does not target any regional or ethnic group, like the Bangsamoro people.
“Passing a class legislation against the (people of BARMM), I would like to stress, would not even cross the minds of the proponents of the said bill. This piece of legislation is against terrorists and terrorism and not against a particular regional/ethnic group,” he said.
Roque said Bangsamoro leaders may have prejudged the measure.
“We consider the concern that the bill would lead to abuse, especially to our Muslim brothers and sisters, unfounded,” he said. (With PNA and MindaNews reports)
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