Concern over abuses in anti-terrorism bill

MANILA, Philippines – Bishops in the Philippines have expressed concern over potential human rights violations which could result from an anti-terrorism bill.

Bishop Martin Jumoad of Isabela said that, although he is “glad” the Human Security Act was passed by Congress, an independent body is needed to avoid such violations.

“There should be another body of civil society that will evaluate or analyze the implementation,” he told UCA News, an Asian church news agency, Feb. 28.

However, he said, the bill could stabilize peace and order in his prelature on Basilan, an island-province. The Abu Sayyaf guerrillas, who have been blamed for bombings, kidnappings and killings in the southern region, have camps there.

The bishop also expressed hope that the legislation will result in “respecting the bill of rights of every citizen.”

The House of Representatives passed the bill Feb. 19 after the Senate had passed it 11 days earlier.

If President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signs the bill into law, authorities may detain suspects for three days without a court warrant and without filing formal charges. People “wrongly arrested” or detained as terrorism suspects would be entitled to compensation of up to $10,300 a day.

The bill defines a terrorist act as “sowing and creating” a “widespread and extraordinary fear and panic” to “coerce the government to give in to an unlawful demand.” The maximum punishment is 40 years in prison.

Meanwhile, during a press conference Feb. 20 at St. Peter’s Parish in Quezon City, Bishop Antonio Tobias of Novaliches presented a statement that called the bill “despotic and tyrannical.”

The statement from the Kilusang Makabansang Ekonomiya, a nongovernmental advocacy organization, was signed by Bishop Deogracias Iniguez of Kalookan and retired Bishop Julio Labayen of Infanta.

The statement said the bill would “strip the protection of every Filipino citizen against unwarranted government abuse.” Terrorism is defined “so broadly” in the bill that citizens “legitimately expressing dissent,” such as those working for political, social and economic change, are “at risk,” it said.

At a Feb. 23 press conference, Ricardo Blancaflor, defense undersecretary, said there “must be something good” in the proposed law, since critics call it both “too draconian” and “lacking teeth.”

He urged the Catholic bishops “to stop criticizing the new law they have not reviewed extensively” and to give it “a chance to work.”

“What is important is we finally have something to stop terrorism,” he said.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.