What’s the rush for the Anti-Terrorism Law?

Who would ever thought that the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is so intimidating that the President of the Philippines would urgently request an anti-terrorism law amidst this pandemic?

Kidding aside, the Anti-Terrorism Bill (House Bill No. 6875) which seeks to amend the Human Security Act of 2007 just passed the third reading in the Lower House as of this writing and will soon be transmitted to President Rodrigo Duterte for signature. 173 lawmakers in the House of Representatives (HOR) voted in support of the measure, 31 opposed and 29 abstained.

The Lower House just adopted en toto the Senate version of the bill to avoid bicameral committee (also known as bicam) meeting. If there are discrepancies in the HOR and Senate versions of a particular legislative measure, the bicam is convened to iron this out — something that will not happen in this case.

Basically, the anti-terrorism bill is about penalizing those who will propose, incite, conspire, participate in the planning, training, preparation, and facilitation of a terrorist act; as well as those who will provide material support to terrorists, and recruit members in a terrorist organization. Terrorism, according to Section 4 of Senate Bill No. 1082, refers to acts:

  • Intended to cause death or serious bodily injury to any person, or endangers a person’s life;
  • Intended to cause extensive damage or destruction to a government or public facility, public place or private property;
  • Acts intended to cause extensive interference with, damage or destruction to critical infrastructure;
  • That develops, manufactures, possesses, acquires, transports, supplies or uses weapons, explosives or of biological, nuclear, radiological or chemical weapons; and,
  • That release of dangerous substances, or causing fire, floods or explosions for the purpose of intimidating the general pubhc or a segment thereof, creating an atmosphere or spread a message of fear, to provoke or influence by intimidation the government or any of its international organization, or seriously destabilizing or destroy the fundamental political, economic, or social structures of the country, or create a pubhc emergency or seriously undermine public safety..

Interestingly, the measure was passed while the people are focused on the Covid-19 pandemic, on where to find the next meal, on what to do with the education of their children, and on the problematic transportation system under the general community quarantine.

While we agree that the Anti-Terror Law is needed, there are other pressing issues that this government need to address. Covid-19 is still in the air and in the past few days, we have seen the number of cases climbed up by thousands. The economy is still on a nosedive and with social services still wanting.

Apparently, there are also mechanisms to control terrorists with Mindanao’s Martial Law being one of them. The President also is still in control of the military as seen in how he directs the Armed Forces to combat Covid-19. The military also appears to be as efficient and even more professional than ever. And to note, the government was also able to use its military might, pulverized Marawi and reclaimed it from the terrorists. In fact, if there is a terror that continually haunts the country, it is the sight of Marawi that continually remains in ruins despite the billions of pesos allocated and donated to rebuild the city.

So, why the hurry for the anti-terrorism law?

Could it be because of the increasing number of questions on how this Administration is handling the pandemic? The social media is flooded with questions on how social services and financial assistance are being administered. Questions are also popping up here and there on health and data figures, and the blunders committed by the health department. Who would forget the claims of the Health Secretary that the Philippines is a model country in handling the pandemic; that there is no need to issue travel bans; that the Covid-19 cases has flattened; and, lately, that the country has is already on the second wave? And, given the huge budget allocations for Covid response, questions are also lingering on how these are being spent?

Is timing also the reason for the speedy passage of the Anti-Terrorism Law — that is, if the law is passed in non-Covid times, it will be difficult to handle public opinion? But if this is the case, is this an indication that the Administration is already losing control despite the having not only a highly popular President but also a supermajority both in the Lower House and the Senate?

Or, has the government lost touched with the real needs of the people which is mainly survival because of the pandemic? Note that for majority of the Filipinos, the threats of Covid is lesser than the threat of hunger. In fact, immediately after the enhanced community quarantine was lifted, thousands crowded the streets in search of rides just to go to their places of work. But if the government has indeed become detached with the needs of the people, then it has lost its authority to govern. Cliche as this may sound, the government existed “for the people, by the people and of the people”. So, to preserve this authority and be in control, the government would like to flex its legislative muscle? But what happened to the high trust and popularity ratings? Do they really mean something or are just colorful lies?

Except for the former friends of the President — the members of the extreme Left — and the die-hard Duterte Supporters (DDS) who do not understand the implications of a revolutionary government, no one is asking for a change in government. There are insinuations of leadership change but this could mean a change in the kind or style of leadership but not always a person. And then again, the President is popular and with high trust ratings. So, why the hurry for an Anti-Terrorism Law? Are there cracks within the government itself?

While timing is everything, we hope that the President reconsiders. He is trying to build a legacy. A strongman that he claims he is, the President would benefit more if the muscles he use would be for the benefit of the public especially in these challenging times. The economy is down, social services are problematic, the morale is low, and the pandemic is still present. As Dachner Keltner said, power is about making a change in the world and an enduring power comes from empathy. Isn’t it proper to prioritize these first?

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