SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - August 14, 2019 - 12:00am

If President Duterte asks his congressional super majority, the anti-subversion law could be revived.

It’s useful to bear in mind, however, that the communist insurgency was at its strongest when subversion was still a criminal offense, under an authoritarian government. Martial law was declared by Ferdinand Marcos ostensibly to quell the communist rebellion.

I’m a martial law baby, but I have some recollection of noisy, angry youths, the guys mostly long-haired and waving red banners, marching on Rizal Avenue and chanting, “Marcos, Hitler, diktador, tuta (ng Kano).”

The mass protests abruptly stopped when martial law was declared. Apart from cracking down on political opponents, the dictatorship showed youths what discipline for national progress, or “sa ikauunlad ng bayan, disiplina ang kailangan” meant: micro mini hemlines were lengthened, men’s long hairstyles were shortened, bomba or porn movies disappeared from mainstream cinemas, rock music was banned and its premier radio purveyor dzRJ went off the air.

And yet the repression, abuses and atrocities of strongman rule became the best recruiter for the communist movement.

*      *      *

There were no more protest marches on Rizal Avenue against the dictator and fascist American lapdog. But the protests continued in school campuses, particularly the University of the Philippines in Diliman.

There was, even back then, active communist recruitment on campus and what the government describes today as indoctrination. I know that some of my UP classmates went to the countryside for “immersions,” and I’m glad that no one ended up dead or a desaparecido.

Even in other countries, schools have always been hotbeds of youth activism. Where there are armed insurgencies, schools are ideological battlegrounds and recruitment spots.

The proper response is to confront the factors that attract the youth to insurgencies.

For idealistic youth, repression is one of the strongest causes.

*      *      *

The perception of creeping repression is a risk that must be considered as the government ponders the revival of the anti-subversion law.

Fidel Ramos, during his presidency that pursued peace with all rebels from left to right, repealed the law criminalizing subversion. But sedition remains a crime, and there are laws that allow the state to go after any individual or group that engages in armed violence, kidnapping, arson, torture, extortion – all the activities carried out by the communist New People’s Army (NPA) and Islamic extremists.

State forces could have been given greater power to fight violent extremists such as the Mautes and Abu Sayyaf, through Republic Act 9372 or the Human Security Act, which made terrorism a distinct crime. RA 9372 was patterned after new counterterrorism legislation in other countries, notably the United Kingdom, amid increased Islamist bombings and terror plots.

Our lawmakers, however, apparently don’t trust Philippine law enforcers the way the Brits trust their counterterrorism agencies.

As I observed when RA 9372 was passed back in 2007, no cop in his right mind would use the law even if terrorist bombs are going off all over the country, because it leaves no room for police mistakes in the difficult and often dangerous tasks of intel gathering and neutralizing terror cells.

Leftist sympathizers in Congress apparently feared that the law would be used against the NPA, which is classified by the US and several other states as a foreign terrorist organization. So, under RA 9372, a counterterrorism cop could end up spending up to 12 years behind bars even for an honest mistake, and his unit could be fined up to P500,000 for every day of detaining a suspect who is later acquitted of terrorism.

For using “threat, intimidation, or coercion” or inflicting “physical pain or torment, or mental, moral, or psychological pressure” while interrogating a terror suspect, a cop can be sent to prison for 12 to 20 years.

Obviously, sensible inputs from law enforcement agencies were ignored in crafting this law.

*      *      *

It would be reasonable to amend RA 9372, to incorporate the realities of counterterrorism and law enforcement. This is being suggested by Interior Secretary Eduardo Año.

A former military chief of staff, Año is also proposing the revival of the anti-subversion law. This is not only to give teeth to the campaign against the NPA but also to stop communist recruitment among the youth. Año estimates that every year, from 500 to 1,000 youths are “indoctrinated” by communist front organizations.

Subversion during martial law included affiliation with the Communist Party of the Philippines and its front organizations, attending meetings of such groups, and of course plotting to overthrow the conjugal dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos.

Does Año intend to round up today’s youths for similar activities?

There were many stories of youths arrested for subversion during the dictatorship who were detained without charges, beaten, raped, deprived of sleep, subjected to electric shocks and the Pinoy version of waterboarding. Some ended up dead; others simply disappeared.

Instead of sowing fear, the abuses – and the lack of avenues for seeking redress – drove more people, particularly youths, into the arms of the insurgency.

Social injustice is always a recruiter for insurgencies and extremism. This is why we now have the world’s longest running communist insurgency.

Unless youths actually take up arms against the government and engage in other criminal activities such as extortion and arson, locking them up for their ideological beliefs can only make their indoctrinators stronger.

The Cabinet security cluster appears divided on Año’s proposal, with Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra reportedly among the opponents. But presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said Malacañang is studying the proposal.

Guns may win traditional wars. But the battle for hearts and minds, especially of the youth, cannot be won by force.

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