Recent statements from lawmakers and government officials do very little to assure us that the newly passed Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 will not be abused to stifle legitimate dissent.
Even without the law, we have seen how this administration has sought to silence its critics while disavowing any connection to those efforts. These are the same officials, after all, who assured us that the Palace had nothing to do with the effort by the solicitor-general, the government's top lawyer, to ask the Supreme Court to shut down a broadcast network that annoys the President, or with the tax and libel suits filed against an online news service that has been critical of the administration's bloody war on drugs.
The military, police, and national security officials have all insisted that they will ensure that the law will not be abused. But we can derive as much confidence from such assurances as sheep would obtain from a wolf that promises he will not eat them.
Remarkably, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. quickly demonstrated how broadly this government can apply the terrorist brush when he said those who opposed the new law were probably “supporters of terrorists.”
“Law-abiding” Filipinos, he said, have nothing to fear from the law that allows warrantless arrests of terror suspects.
Would that include critics of the new anti-terrorism law, though?
We should ask the 11 members of leftist organizations including three minors who were arrested in Laguna for protesting the anti-terrorism law.
Some lawmakers say more safeguards could be worked into the law's implementing rules and regulations, suggesting that a constitutionally defective law can somehow be made less objectionable by more well-defined rules. Without conceding that point, we wonder why these defects could not have been cut out from the original bill before it became a law that has been denounced both here and abroad as being violative of human rights and civil liberties.
Then we have the Defense secretary who has appealed to the public to “give this law a chance” so that the government can “contain and eradicate terrorists who don't play by any rules and who hide behind our laws to pursue their evil deeds.”
The Defense chief also urges the public “not to be swayed by misinformation and disinformation” and to “read and understand” the law.
A group of lawyers has done just that, of course, by challenging the law's constitutionality before the Supreme Court. It is likely that they, too, have read the law and understood it to be the danger it truly is—even though neither they nor we are no supporters of terrorists.