Understanding Terrorism in the Context of the Proposed New Philippine Anti-Terrorism Law

by Rod Kapunan*

20 June 2020

The latitude of freedom accorded to our people has gone a bit too far. To express one’s indignation to the proposed law is beyond the concept of freedom of expression. Such unmitigated rile against the Anti-Terrorist Law already crosses the boundary of freedom.

The action of the so-called militant group is indirect censorship. They are now acting as terrorists demanding that it be stricken off the record. Their opposition manifests their unjustified prejudgment of the proposed law.

One cannot even say the law is unconstitutional. It does not particularize a person or group of persons guilty like a bill of attainder enforced by a coup-installed president singling out the Marcoses as guilty and whose properties were sequestrated by the prejudgment of the presidential-good-for-nothing commission as ill-gotten.

Despite the heated acrimony about the passage of the ATL, Congress has not taken steps to amend the Constitution like giving the President stronger power to impose martial law as the hypocrites would often like to compare.

The creation of a Council is in lieu of suspending the writ of habeas corpus. Suspected terrorists can be detained as determined. However, the fiscal remains free to charge the accused in court. Likewise, the Council is more adept and familiar how terrorist organizations operate than a judge who is preoccupied in deciding cases violated under the Revised Penal Code.

But for all of their denunciations of the ATL, they remain silent why death penalty has not been re-imposed. The misplaced leniency saw many big time drug lords stocked inside the New Bilibid Prison only to continue their syndicated operations and enjoying privileges of private rooms or “kobol” complete with karaoke bar, and visitation pass, which reason why Senator Leila De Lima landed in jail. The opposition is silent on this issue because they do not want to recall this “miscarriage of justice” that ludicrously favored big-time criminals.

Although the ATL provides that any person convicted of terrorism cannot be granted pardon or have his sentence commuted, they skip the truth that this is equivalent to life imprisonment, stated differently. Our decision to spare the life of hardened criminals saw many convicted felons agonizing inside the penitentiary without visitation for years. This has contributed to the congestion of prisoners, thus tempting prison guards to give special favor to well-off criminals.

Admittedly, the Anti-Terrorism Law gives the accused terrorist a slim chance of evading the punitive measures of the law. But looking at the rationale behind its enactment, one could discern that it is intended to pre-empt the commission of crimes unimaginable and grotesque in magnitude. The opposition themselves never clarified the meaning of terrorism for our people to understand their advocacy.

They say it could lead to the arrest and detention of suspects without warrant up to 18 days. The hypocrites want to cram the prosecutors to file cases presenting haphazard evidence only to secure their untimely release. They disregard that the duty of the Council is to ramify cases committed by terror -suspects but are charged with rebellion and sedition and whose penalty correspondingly increases similar to the concept of “qualified” theft which under the RPC increases three times, say for violating the country’s laws on national security like the Anti-Terrorist Law.

The ATL is a modified version of the anti-subversion law that has long been abrogated. In short, the ATL is in reaction to the ferocity and savagery of terrorists.

Our law enforcement authorities are no longer fighting a warfare understood as guerrilla or irregular warfare but one termed today as “asymmetrical warfare.” They observe no rules, no humane treatment of prisoners, and they feel free to torture and execute their hostage.

Terrorists do not distinguish civilian from military targets, nor are they obligated to refrain from bombing hospitals, refugee camps, and residential areas. They prefer to use weapons intended to inflict maximum damage and casualties. Their followers adhere to a primeval form of ideology like executing prisoners in the name of jihad, and finally demand rather than negotiate ransom for the release of their hostage.

Even the dead are desecrated like showing in social media the head of the fallen soldier skewered in a bamboo pole in the most contemptible act of scoffing the dead. The killing of our 44 SAF policemen is the most vivid act of terrorism. Each of the dead body was hacked, mutilated and undressed of their uniform to consummate insult. They express their utter contempt to the government.

As terrorists, they do not recognize such thing as theatre of operations or demand the temporary cessation of hostilities as observed in any conventional warfare. They observe no rules on warfare recognized under international law. They substitute their lack of support by instilling fear to weaken the morale of the people. Their objective is to inflict the greatest number of casualties.

To deal with suspects bent in sowing fear and terror, the ATL has to put limitations: that when terrorism begins, the state has to use all the legal means to preserve order in society. Such is necessary to respond to the degree of crime committed which today poses as the greatest threat to humanity. Terrorism must be rooted out, for often they are committed either through a web of conspiracy and unmitigated treachery.

Admittedly, the latitude upon which suspects are made liable is now narrower but that can never be interpreted as violation of our basic rights. The government is merely seeking to provide itself the remedy in reaction to the drastic changes resorted to by terrorists in the rules of warfare.

For example, the opposition bewails the use of the word “incite others to commit terrorism by means of speeches, proclamation, writing, and emblems or other representations to achieve the same end.” However, they failed to consider that the word “inciting” already exists in crimes of rebellion and sedition. The Council opted to include inciting to commit terrorism, for often suspects use it to sow fear or threat to use violence.

Specifically, left-leaning groups and their front organizations vigorously denounce the ATL. Even the yellow opposition, being the unofficial outlet of US propaganda, adds confusion such that the military is having difficulty classifying them as terrorists for the fact that in many instances they commit ambuscades and are engaged in systematic extortion. The siege of Marawi is a lesson which the opposition wishes to expurgate in our memory.

The issue of human rights and claim of repression blends well to allow known US lackeys and the oligarchy to coalesce with hardcore leftists. This is made convenient by the support of the Church and derailed intellectuals to lambast the government. Yet, nobody now stands up to criticize the US Patriot Act of 2001 which is similar to our ATL that saw the kidnapping of terror suspects by the US to be detained for years without charges in Guantanamo, Cuba.

The danger is they are unaware that the principal sponsor of many terrorist groups today is the US itself. They forgot that it was Duterte who exposed the participation of the US embassy when it airlifted a suspected CIA operative to Manila who was wounded in a bomb blast carried out by the Abu Sayaff.

*The author is a columnist for the Manila Standard. A former rebel soldier, he was a prominent leader of the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM).

This piece was originally published in Manila Standard.

Photo Credit: University of the Philippines College of Law.

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