Lawyer to amplify long unheard Moro, IP voices at anti-terrorism law debate
A Imam prays at an empty mosque in Cotabato City, in southern island of Mindanao on May 22, 2020, ahead of Eid-al-Fitr, with mass gathering still not allowed in mosques or churches, as part of the government's effort to contain the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak.
AFP/Ferdinandh Cabrera

Lawyer to amplify long unheard Moro, IP voices at anti-terrorism law debate

Kristine Joy Patag (Philstar.com) - January 21, 2021 - 11:34am

MANILA, Philippines — In the highly anticipated face off between legal luminaries and Solicitor General Jose Calida on the contentious Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, Moro lawyer and peace advocate Algamar Latiph bears the honor and responsibility of speaking for fellow Muslim Filipinos and for indigenous peoples.

Latiph and three other Moro lawyers filed the 16th petition against the anti-terrorism law. His co-petitioner, lawyer Bantuas Lucman, who  victims of human rights violations, is designated as his alternate.

Latiph served as a chair of the Regional Human Rights Commission for the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, now Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. He later served in the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, the panel that worked on the draft of the charter for the new region.

In a piece published on MindaNews last August, Latiph said he and the other lawyers filed their petition challenging the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 that, they said, “would be used, as a tool, to legitimize curtailment of our liberty and freedom. And love.”

He continued: “Prejudice did not come into existence in haste, as the seeds of prejudice, against the Moro, were consciously planted as far back as 300 years ago.”

The Moro experience: Terrorist-tagging, mistaken identity and Islamophobia

Latiph will specifically argue whether Section 56 repealing RA 9372 — the Human Security Act of 2007 — violates the constitutional mandate to compensate victims of torture or similar practices as well as the right to due process.

Section 56 repeals the Human Security Act, which contains a provision of compensation of P500,000 a day to people wrongfully accused and arrested under that law.

Under this provision of the HSA, farmer Edgar Candule sued the government for P480.5 million in damages for his detention from 2008 to his release in 2010. No similar provision is found in the ATA, with its supporters saying the provision on damages hampered security operations.

The Latiph petition detailed how the Bangsamoro has been suffering from prejudice since the 16th century, when Spain depicted them as “pirates and savages,” and how this persists to this day.

Muslims have also been branded as “mananakop,” at least once — by then Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas — and as "a member of an uncivilized tribe" in a 1917 Supreme Court ruling, they added.

Moro leaders led by Deputy Speaker Mujiv Hataman (Basilan) and Rep. Amihilda Sangcopan (Anak Mindanao party-list) anchored their own petition on documented Islamophobia and the wrongful arrests of Muslims.

The AMIN party-list petition noted that the Sept. 11, 2001 New York attack, labeled as terrorist attack, gave rise to Islamophobia.  The concept of Jihad, which actually refers to a way for Muslims to “fulfil their faith and actualize Islam”, has also been conflated with terrorism, they said.

With this, exclaiming “Allahu Akbar,” meant to praise Allah; pointing an index finger to testify oneness with Allah and even possessing the Quran may be seen as allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or indoctrination — bases which can be used to designate them as terrorists, petitioners said.

A separate petition filed by Main Mohammad, an Islamic worship leader or Imam, inmate Jimmy Bla from Zamboanga, and Muslim engineer Nazr Dilangalen raised the practice of tagging Muslims as members of the Abu Sayyaf group and the Maute group.

Bla and Mohammad told the court they have been “randomly tagged” as members of the ASG, while Dilangalen was falsely accused of being a key recruiter of the Maute-Abu Sayyaf.

Mohammad was detained for one year and nine months while Dilangalen languished in jail for two years before the cases were dismissed against them. Bla remains in detention.

“The longstanding and ingrained practice of ASG-tagging against Moros whose rights are perpetually violated reinforces the real and credible threat posed by the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020,” their petition read.

The Latiph petition cited cases of mistaken identity involving Moros shown in the arrest of 285 persons for the 2013 Zamboanga Siege. Of these, seven were children while 42 were detained for a year and a half only to be freed for lack of evidence against them.

The AMIN party-list petition also cited cases of the detention of a Muslim for having the same name with a suspect in the Ampatuan massacre, despite proof that he was elsewhere when the crime happened; four years of detention for a Sulu farmer and truck driver for a kidnapping that he did not commit and 51 people mistakenly arrested, mostly for sharing the name of a suspect and because of a bounty for the arrest.

With documented cases of mistaken identity and prejudice against them, Moros that suffer wrongful tagging as terrorists are left vulnerable to detention and arrests — with no safeguard against abuse.

READ: Muslim Filipinos at most risk from anti-terrorism bill 'overreach, abuse'

The IP experience: Oppose militarization, be red-tagged in return

Latiph will also argue whether the anti-terrorism law violates the Indigenous Peoples and Bangsamoro's rights to self-determination and self-governance under the Constitution.

Sec. 7, Art. II of the Constitution states that:

The State shall pursue an independent foreign policy. In its relation with other states, the paramount consideration shall be national sovereignty, territorial integrity, national interest and the right to self-determination.

Chapter IV Sec. 13 of RA 8371 or “The Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act of 1997” holds that the State recognizes the IP’s rights to self-governance and self-determination. The State too “respects the integrity of their values, practices and institutions” and guarantee the right of IPs “to freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”

In the petition filed by the group led by Beverly Longid, an officer of Kalipunan ng mga Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas, petitioners told the court that “inextricably and inexplicably linked to the right to self-determination is the right to oppose, criticize, and dissent from development aggression and the policy of militarization that comes with it.”

The IP group's petition recalled how the Philippine legal system “is both a witness and a narrator of indigenous peoples struggle,” as seen in the 1919 case of Rubi v. Provincial Board of Mindoro where the SC “authorized the forcible displacement of Mangyans” from the land they had been living on to transfer them to a government reservation.

In the said case, the court deemed that “a permanent settlement was the only successful method for educating the Mangyans, introducing civilized customs, improving their health and morals, and protecting the public forests in which they roamed.”

In the 1906 Cariño v. Insular Government case, Don Mateo Cariño, an Ibaloi, had also sought to register parcels of land his ancestors occupied since time immemorial in Benguet. Following Igorot custom, he inherited the land.

The American colonial government built a public road on the land and forced him out of it. The Court of First Instance reversed the grant of application for ownership, which was later affirmed by the SC. Cariño took his case to the U.S. Supreme Court where he secured a favorable ruling.

Apart from these, there are cases that never even reached the court. “This historical position of disadvantage along with the government’s neglect to respect and recognize indigenous peoples’ rights have often found government and indigenous peoples at opposing ends of huge government projects,” the petitioners said.

Faced with IP opposition to so-called development projects as part of their rights, State forces have often resorted to red-tagging, the petitioners said. After they are accused of being communists or terrorists, it would then be easy for military and paramilitary to “silence or cause untold human rights abuses on vocal dissenters, and thereby subdue the indigenous peoples assertion of their rights.”

 In some cases, the IPs had to pay with their lives. Among the 49 environmental defenders killed in 2019, 20% of them are indigenous peoples.

“The passage of RA 11479 will even potentially increase the instances of this red-baiting on three grounds: its vague provisions, its disregard for the context of the indigenous peoples, and its giving more power to State forces, most of whom have been at the forefront of the abuses against the indigenous peoples,” the IP petitioners added.

SC asked: Take our experience into context

Latiph in his piece for MindaNews aptly titled “Bangsamoro Speaks: In the Name Of Love,”  said there is “love” in their petition, but they are unsure whether this will persuade or annoy the justices.

“The Court will only read the letter of the law and the Constitution, and it will not belabor itself to consider factual evidence to support its decision in upholding the constitutionality or unconstitutionality of the law,”.Latiph said.

“Then, why would we bother ourselves in discussing the facts on mistaken identity and issues pertinent to prejudice occupying 25 out of 82 pages of the petition when we knew, priorly, the futility of such efforts?” he continued.

READ: Bangsamoro hopes for representation in Anti-Terrorism Council

He lamented that detailing the history and experience of Moros may somehow be “worthless.”

“But in the name of ‘love,’ for us, it is worth writing. This is where ‘love’ comes into play,” Latiph added.

Latiph and seven other veteran lawyers will present arguments on behalf of the 37 petitioners against the anti-terrorism on oral arguments set on February 2.

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