The Anti-Subversion Law, explained

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines — Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año, a former military chief, called for the revival of the Cold War-era anti-subversion law to counter the recruitment of communist rebels among Filipino youth.

The measure, which made it a crime to be a member of the Communist Party of the Philippines, was repealed in 1992 during the administration of former President Fidel Ramos when he began a peace process with the communist insurgents.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra and Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon were quick to voice their opposition to the proposed reinstatement of the anti-subversion law.

Guevarra stressed that mere membership in the CPP does not constitute a crime.

“Being leftist is far from being terrorist. As long as activism remains in the realm of ideology, there is nothing to be alarmed about,” Guevarra said.

Drilon, a former Justice secretary, said the resurrection of the anti-subversion law would violate a person’s constitutional right to freedom of assembly and association as well as the equal-protection clause of the Bill of Rights.

Republic Act 1700

The Anti-Subversion Act or Republic Act 1700 was enacted in 1957 during the presidency of Carlos Garcia, with aim to counter the Hukbalahap movement.

Section 4 of the repealed law punished “whoever knowingly, wilfully and by overt acts affiliates himself with, becomes or remains a member of the Communist Party of the Philippines and/or its successor or any subversive association.”

The Marcos-era Presidential Decree 1835, which was similarly repealed, defined communist subversive groups as existing “for the purpose of overthrowing the government or for the purpose of removing from the allegiance to said government or its laws, the territory of the Philippines or any part thereof, with the open or covert assistance or support of a foreign power or the open or covert support from a foreign source of any association, group of persons, whether public or private, by force, violence, terrorism, arson, assassination, deceit or other illegal means.”

The decree also enumerated set of acts that would be prima facie evidence of subversion such as giving financial support to a “subversive” organization, executing its orders or plans and distributing its material or propaganda. 

Dead law

In 1992, nearly three decades ago, Ramos signed Republic Act 7637, which repealed the Anti-Subversion Act.

“Republic Act 1700 was passed 35 years ago—when communism seemed the wave of the future—by a Philippine state fearful of being submerged in its tide. Today we repeal it—confident of our national stability and confirmed in the resilience of our democracy,” Ramos said in a speech in 1992.

He added: “By assuring communist insurgents of political space, we also challenge them to compete under our constitutional system and free market of ideas—which are guaranteed by the rule of law.”

In a statement Tuesday, Drilon said the law was repealed because of the perceived infringement on the constitutional rights of an individual.

“The anti-subversion law was ‘buried’ a long time ago for it was proven that such policy, aside from being prone to abuse and a tool to harass, undermined some of our basic constitutional rights,” the opposition lawmaker said.

Article 2, Section 4 of the 1987 Constitution states that “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.”

‘More teeth’ to Human Security Act

Drilon said the 18th Congress should not be remembered for resurrecting “dead” laws such as the anti-subversion law and the death penalty law.

“We do not want this Congress to be remembered for resurrecting more ‘dead’ laws instead of formulating sound policies that will address the country’s present problems,” Drilon said, adding the Human Security Act can help address terrorism and provide adequate protection to the State.

“We should not make it as an excuse to always blame the inefficiencies in our laws, proven or otherwise, for our failure to discharge our duty,” he added.

Instead of bringing back the anti-subversive law, “giving more teeth to the Human Security Act”—which Congress wants to amend to allow, among other things, longer detention of suspected terrorists—“will suffice,” Guevarra said.

But human rights groups such as Karapatan also consider the Human Security Act “draconian.”

“[It] already poses a great risk to the people’s civil and political rights, and is prone to abuse,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay had said in May. 

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