Think tank wary of Anti-Terrorism Act 'misuse' in 2022 polls

Jonathan de Santos - Philstar.com
Think tank wary of Anti-Terrorism Act 'misuse' in 2022 polls
This 2019 file photo shows campaign streamers in Manila.
The STAR / Michael Varcas, file

MANILA, Philippines — There is a growing risk that the Anti-Terrorism Act will be used as a political tool against opposition parties and candidates in the 2020 polls, according to a report by a Cotabato City-based think tank.

The law, which grants the Anti-Terrorism Council powers to designate people and groups as terrorists and to order the continued warrantless detention of alleged terrorists and terrorist supporters remains in effect during the election period.

"There are concerns that the law may be used against political opposition because of its continuing effectiveness during elections," the Institute for Autonomy and Governance said in its "Assessment Of The First Year Of Anti-Terrorism" released last week.

Citing lawyer Chel Diokno of the Free Legal Assistance Group, IAG said there are worries that "the provision on inciting to terrorism could be used against government critics in the same way that inciting to sedition has been recently used against personalities from the opposition."

FLAG is counsel for petitioners in one of 37 pleas filed against the law at the Supreme Court.

IAG noted that the government is already branding progressive party-list organizations as supposed front organizations of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People's Army.

The ATC designated both as terrorist groups last December and, in May, designated 19 supposed members of the communist party's Central Committee as terrorists.

RELATED: A year into Anti-Terror Law, kin of terror-tagged peace consultant left with frozen assets, constant anxiety

"The risks of potential misuse of the ATA also grow as the 2022 elections loom, a period where the implementation of the law will not be suspended. The progressive party-list organizations have expressed determination to join the elections and keep their seats in Congress amid a bid by the security sector to disqualify them," the IAG report said.

Solicitor General Jose Calida, in his remarks at oral arguments on the ATA in April, brought up those supposed links, alleging that police found "subversive documents, streamers, campaign paraphernalia of Congressman [Neri] Colmenares, Bayan Muna and Gabriela" in police and military raids in southern Luzon.

He claimed that petitioners, including Colmenares, have failed to condemn attacks by groups the government considers terrorists. "If they have never taken a stand against these acts, and if silence is complicity, there can only be one conclusion," he said then.

Colmenares said Calida's comments against him were uncalled for.

"It is clear by now that the ATA was passed to complement strategies against alleged front organizations of the CPP and the NPA. Any good intention to have an effective law that would counter larger terrorism threats was hijacked by camps pushing for provisions in the law that they could use as political tools," the IAG report also said.

RELATED: Makabayan bloc party-lists under surveillance, Parlade says

Space for legitimate criticism

Members of the political opposition have also raised concerns that "space for legitimate criticism against the government will continue to shrink during the campaign, especially with the coronavirus pandemic providing cover to impose more mobility restrictions."

The IAG report pointed out concerns that the law is being use to "institutionalize" attacks on civilians, including elected officials, members of the academe, lawyers, journalists and organizers of community pantries.

"It doesn't help that government officials have shown alarming intolerance of dissent — quick to dismiss legitimate criticisms of government actions and policies, including of the ATA," it also said. 

A military list of supposed communist rebels they had captured or killed was retracted after people on the list, including lawyers and former government officials, held a press conference to show they were not rebels and are alive.

The incident, which prompted an apology from the defense department, "also underscores the problem with the government's approach, and the urgent need to address poor intelligence gathering within the security sector," IAG said.

RELATED: Military sorry after UP alumni tagged as slain rebels show up alive

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