Is the Anti-Terrorism Law really on our side?
"Nothing could be more urgent than passing this."
The opposition and critics condemn the Duterte administration for Republic Act 11479, now known as the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, which they bewailed as untimely passed by the 18th Congress amidst the chaotic public health crisis.
However, those who are opposed to this law did not realize that five months before the coronavirus outbreak reached our shores, the anti-terrorism bill went through extensive debate in both chambers of the Congress.
The anti-terrorism measure would have lapsed into law this July 9th, but President Duterte signed it into law last Friday despite local and international backlash.
In the midst of all the noise created by the opposition to junk the said bill few weeks ago, Senator Ping Lacson said, “Where were all these critics the whole time we were holding hearings?”
However, supporters of this law wonder where all these celebrities who did not say a word about the anti-terror bill until it became fashionable and trending on social media during the weeks of lockdown and the ABS-CBN shutdown were.
All sorts of actors and even beauty queens Pia Wurtzbach and Catriona Gray turned into self-styled critics of the government for being preoccupied with anti-terrorism than anti-COVID efforts.
We all know COVID-19 continues to ravage people’s lives in the country as it does all over the world. “Until a vaccine is discovered to prevent more people from getting sick of it, we’ll just have to learn to live with it,” one government doctor said.
With or without the pandemic crisis, both the authorities and victims of terrorism in Mindanao believe nothing could be more urgent than passing the Anti-Terror Act of 2020.
Last Friday’s signing of this law, which repeals the obsolete Human Security Act of 2007, for me is one act of this administration which we will feel within the next few months. We will soon see if this law will protect the people from the claws of terrorism or do more harm to one’s rights as the militants and human rights groups, including local celebrities, claim.
Notably, the historic event took place before the President flew to Zamboanga City to meet with military and police officials, particularly those involved in the massacre of four Army intelligence officers last week in Jolo, Sulu.
The four were, in fact, hot on the trail of an Abu Sayyaf bomb-maker, Mundi Sawadjaan, and two newly trained female suicide bombers that fateful Monday afternoon when they were ambushed by at least nine policemen.
The military said Sawadjaan’s group is responsible for a series of attacks that killed dozens of people last year, including the bombing at Jolo’s Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral. Only in his 30s, Sawadjaan was a nephew of Hatid Hajan Sawadjaan, the leader of the international terrorist Islamic State group in the Philippines.
“Family ties” is believed to be one of the possible motives behind the cold-blooded murders of the unarmed Army agents by policemen who appear to have protected the military target, possibly a relative. Now the terrorists are at large.
Such is one of the deep roots of terrorism, particularly in Muslim Mindanao, where the Abu Sayyaf Group, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, and Maute Group have taken refuge and gotten shielded by their relatives from pursuing soldiers.
Some people have such a poor memory and some others are simply too young to know about the countless attacks perpetrated by ruthless terrorists in key urban centers including Metro Manila, claiming thousands of innocent lives over the decades.
It was not until December 5, 2017 when the government declared the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) as terrorist organizations. Both have been blamed by authorities over the years for numerous incidents of bombings, ambushes, and killings.
The CPP and the NPA have long enjoyed foreign funding through non-government organizations (NGOs), particularly from Europe.
Other local terrorist groups have had connections and hosted foreign terrorists from Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah of Indonesia, who were involved in the September 11, 2001 attacks in the U.S.
Three months into the Duterte administration, on September 16, 2016, a bomb explosion killed 14 people and wounded 70 at the iconic night market on Roxas Blvd., Davao City. This is believed to be a handiwork of the Maute Group.
And then the inception of the Islamic State for Iraq and Syria (ISIS) inspired the Abu Sayyaf, Ansar Al-Khalifa and Maute groups and emboldened to takeover Marawi City, leading to a five-month siege by the Armed Forces in 2017.
“Those who oppose the new Anti-Terrorism Law should wake up to the realities of terrorist threat lurking in our country especially in the countryside,” said ACT-CIS Party-list Rep. Eric Yap, who co-authored the House version with Davao City Congressman Paolo Duterte.
Critics of this law claim it will be a license for the authorities to violate human rights and that it targets government critics who will be subjected to wiretapping and surveillance and possible detention for up to 14 days without formal charges.
But Senate President Tito Sotto said: “Only terrorists should be afraid of this law. Bakit ka matatakot kung hindi ka naman maghahasik ng lagim sa bansa?”
However, after carefully reading the provisions of the law over the weekend, I tend to agree with Sen. Sotto and those who backed this law.
Why fear this law when it is intended to go after those who plan to sow terror, harming and killing innocent people where the toothless Human Security Act of 2007 had failed?
The defunct law was too kind to terrorists, such that only one was convicted for terrorism charges while hundreds of victims and their families await justice.
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