The Only Thing I Have is Liberty

The Jaime Times The Only Thing I Have Is Liberty

At a glance, the 2020 Anti-terrorism Bill is actually a great weapon that can help the government combat the rebellion and terrorism in the country that had gotten even worse in the past years, stealing a number of lives and destroying thousands of properties. Generally, this bill aims to nourish the Human Security Act with sturdier provisions that will grant the authorities a new set of capabilities to safeguard the state from unlawful violence and intimidation. However, some parts of the bill seem to touch the principles of free speech and expression in the way it defines the term terrorism, which is much broader and elaborated. That’s why; netizens and some human rights lawyers took this issue on Twitter and other social media platforms to show their strong dissent to the proposed amendment. The hashtag #JunkTerrorBill immediately soared to Twitter trend topics with thousands of tweets denouncing its swift approval in the Congress.

Article 3 Section 4. This is an important part of the 1987 constitution that every communication student will always remember. Throughout my college years, I’d been fed up several times with 10-point essays asking me to write exactly what this portion says. I will admit that most of the time, I screwed up with this essay exam. One day, I had enough and asked my-college-freshie-self “Why do I need to keep this in mind. It’s really hard to memorize.”  During that time, I couldn’t sincerely figure out the significance of this constitutional passage. And I kept on blaming its existence why I was repeatedly failing most of my major exams. 

“No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.”

But now that I got closer to news and local events due to the domination of COVID- 19 in our country, I have seen the democratic protection that this law is providing us. From the moment we learned how to speak and write until now that we are boldly expressing ourselves, our thoughts, and our hearts; this law fosters us in the wings of sovereignty.  

I’m sad, however, that the lawmaking body of our country seems to forget that article 3 section 4 in our constitution exists. One proof is the formulation of the Anti-terror bill which is seen by some as protection from terrorism but is seen by everyone as a threat to our hard-earned liberty. I’m not in the right position to elaborate things about this bill, but I’m one of these people who are against its upcoming approval. I’m not sure how the authorities will use the power of this soon-to-be-law, but I hope that human rights will be always considered supreme and sublime. 

Together, let’s all read Article 3 Section 4 of the Philippine 1987 constitution. 

The “Vague” Definition of Terrorism 

Of course, we all hate terrorism. We all want peace to prevail all the time. We hate war and we hate rifts. Nobody wants to be killed for unreasonable circumstances. And nobody wants to see their countrymen dying in their own land. Remember the 9/11 attack? How about the never-ending warfare in the Middle East? Definitely, we don’t want these things to happen anywhere here in the Philippines. So on the brighter side, we can’t deny that this bill has also some good points in terms of enhancing our national security. It’s going to be of great help to our law-enforcing authorities in maintaining peace and order within the borders of the Philippines. But what makes this bill controversial is its vague definition of terrorism. According to some law analysts, the definitions that pertain to this term broadened their extent, seemingly by-passing our basic human rights— freedom of expression. Why? Let’s get straight to the fire.

I don’t see any problems with A-D as they’re pertaining to violence that is undeniably a threat to the public. These parts are the core of the bill that safeguards the country from the terrorism we all know and we want to get away from. But going down to E, there is one specific phrase that makes me and other people feel uncomfortable. It looks like this phrase (in bold) cradles the power to punish anyone who only exercises his right to assess the current situation of the

Sec. 4. Terrorism. - Subject to Section 49 of this Act, terrorism is committed by any person who within or outside the Philippines, regardless of the stage of execution; 

(a) Engages in acts intended to cause death or serious 20 bodily injury to any person, or endangers a person’s life; 

(b) Engages in acts intended to cause extensive damage or destruction to a government or public facility, public place or private property: 

(c) Engages in acts intended to cause extensive interference with, damage or destruction to critical infrastructure; 

(d) Develops, manufactures, possesses, acquires, transports, supplies or uses weapons, explosives or of biological, nuclear, radiological or chemical weapons; and 

(e) Release of dangerous substances, or causing fire, floods or explosions when the purpose of such act, by its nature and context, is to intimidate the general public or a segment thereof create an atmosphere or spread a message of fear, to provoke or influence by intimidation the government or any of its international organization, or seriously destabilize or destroy the fundamental political, economic, or social structures of the country, or create a public emergency or seriously undermine public safety, 

shall be guilty of committing terrorism and shall suffer the penalty of life imprisonment without the benefit of parole.

First things first, I don’t have any background related to law, so I don’t have the right and the means to discuss the technicalities of these provisions. However, I’ll just share with you my personal point of view about this issue based solely on my own interpretation— please correct me if I am wrong. So here it is. 

country and demand change from the government if necessary. If you won’t be careful with your statements and dare to go below the belt in the guise of threatening the safety of any government officials or the entire nation, there’s a chance you may get characterized as a terrorist using this clause. 

Sec. 9. Inciting to Commit Terrorism. - Any person who, without taking any direct part in the commission of terrorism, shall incite others to the execution of any of the acts specified in Section 4 hereof by means of speeches, proclamations, writings, emblems, banners or other representations tending to the same end, shall suffer the penalty of imprisonment of twelve (12) years

Remember the surprising arrest of a public school teacher after posting on social media that he is giving a 50 million pesos reward to any people who would kill the president? The same incident may happen again in the presence of this provision under the anti-terror bill. As emphasized (in bold), section 9 carries a large coverage to the extent that critical grievances conveyed through speeches, proclamations, writings, emblems, banners, and other representation may be perceived as an offense. Well, it’s not directly referring to dissent, but who knows, it’s an open quote so there’s a possibility that this passage can be used for such purpose. 

There are other more sections written in this bill that seem to go against our bill of rights, including warrantless arrest and prolonged initial detention. I have also read some analyses wherein they’ve found out that certain parts of this bill favor the authority in cases of wrong accusations where the officials involved are freed from accountability.   

The senators who authored this bill ascertain the public that dissents are not covered. According to them, they emphasized in section 4 that political and civil rights are strongly protected with this clause: 

Provided, that, terrorism as defined in this Section 6 shall not include advocacy, protest, dissent, stoppage of work, industrial or mass action, and other similar exercises of civil and political rights, which are not intended to cause death or serious physical harm to a person, to endanger a person’s life, or to create a serious risk to public safety.”

So as they said, critics of the anti-terror bill have nothing to worry about. 

Is it enough? I don’t know. All I know is that we should be careful about what we are going to say once this bill officially becomes a law. 

Final Say

While scrolling through the #JunkTerrorBill thread, I’ve found one insightful comment that summarizes our objection in this bill. According to this tweet, the reason why this is happening is because Filipino people are already losing their trust to the authorities and officials who enforce the law. Is it right? Well, all I can say is we’ve already seen a lot, and that’s why; we are afraid.

I’m just a poor nobody in society. Freedom of expression is the only thing I have. So please, don’t take this away from me. #JunkTerrorBill

Photo Credit: Alexis Brown