The Anti-Terror Law recently passed by President Rodrigo Duterte is reminiscent of moves made by the government in 1972, when warrantless detentions presaged the the fall of democracy and the rise of a “dictatorial regime that terrorized the country for 14 years,” according to the Catholic Bishops Conferene of the Philippines.
In a pastoral letter dated July 16 but posted on its website on Sunday, July 19, the CBCP said recent events reminded them of the situation in 1972, “when an elected president also legalized the ‘ASSOs’ (arrest, search and seizure orders).”
“It was from there that we gradually sank into the mire of authoritarian rule,” the CBCP said.
The open letter began with a request for prayers for Hong Kong, which itself passed a new National Security Act recently. The request came from Charles Cardinal Maung Bo, Archbishop of Yangon, Myanmar and President of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, who said the new law “poses a threat to the basic freedoms and human rights of the people of Hongkong, and how it potentially undermines especially their freedom of expression.”
The CBCP then said the situation sounds “eerily familiar” to Filipinos.
“We are still in disbelief about the manner in which the contentious Anti-Terror Bill was fast-tracked and approved in both Houses of Congress while the whole country’s attention was focused on the Covid-19 pandemic,” the letter said. “They did not even seem to care that many of the people they represent were against it—lawyers’ associations, the academe, the business sector, labor groups, youth organizations, NGO’s, political movements, faith-based communities, and even the Bangsamoro government.
“The dissenting voices were strong but they remained unheeded,” the letter added. “None of the serious concerns that they expressed about this legislative measure seemed to be of any consequence to them. Alas, the political pressure from above seemed to weigh more heavily on our legislators than the voices from below.”
President Duterte signed the Anti-Terror Bill into law last July 3. One of the most contentious provisions in the law is that enforcers won’t need a warrant to arrest suspected terrorists. They can be detained for up to 14 days, which can be extended by another 10 days.
Also read: Why is the Anti-Terror Law so Alarming?
The CBCP said it is encouraged by the groups of lawyers and ordinary citizens that have filed petitions before the Supreme Court questioning the consitutionality of the law.
“We draw encouragement from the belief that in various government agencies we still have many people of good will whose hearts are in the right places, and who remain objective and independent minded,” the letter said “.We have nothing but admiration for these public servants in all branches of government who do only as conscience dictates and do not allow themselves to be intimidated or prevented by political pressure from performing their constitutionally mandated duties.”