Anti-Terrorism Bill Silences Dissent, Curtails Democratic Rights

The rights
and freedoms enshrined in the 1987 Philippine Constitution was a result of the
Filipino people’s struggles, continuing the long heritage of protests and
revolts that helped shape our country today, as we celebrate our 122nd
Independence Day.

Thus, amid
the current challenges facing Filipino educators nationwide, we cannot simply
stay silent or neutral as increased ranks of Filipinos call for the junking of
the Anti-Terrorism Bill. When it is not only us but our children’s and
students’ rights and freedoms that are at stake, we stand in unison in opposing
a more draconian version of the Human Security of Act of 2007 and in defending
the values and principles that our ancestors have fought for.

Moreover, we challenge
the President to take the high ground and veto the Anti-Terrorism Bill,
especially amid an ongoing health and humanitarian crisis brought by COVID-19
and an impending economic recession.

We are aware of counter-protest voices saying that law-abiding and
responsible Filipino citizens need not worry about the Anti-Terrorism Law since
it is intended only for terrorists and those who threaten peace and order and
national security.

But as teachers and as Filipino citizens, we are also aware how
law-abiding and responsible Filipino citizens have been branded by authorities
as “terrorists” and threats to public safety because they decide to practice
their rights and freedoms to air grievances, call out actions on government
inefficiencies, and to express their political stands as a result of their
experiences and contexts. To be law-abiding and responsible is to essentially
love your country by exercising your rights and freedoms especially to decry
injustice, deception and abuses of power.

Our ancestors have sacrificed hugely to fight for the democracy
and independence our nation deserves, to be enjoyed by all Filipinos, whether
they are supportive of a current administration or are critical of it.

But with terrorism being used as a pretext, our lawmakers have
crafted a new bill that broadens who can be declared a terrorist, not only
proscribed but designated by an executive body without due process. Anybody can
be arrested on mere suspicion alone, or the perception of “intent.” The
exercise of constitutional rights such as free speech and assembly can be
considered as terrorist acts.

We see through the pretext and understand that the bill targets
unrelenting government critics with harassment, surveillance, warrantless
arrests and detention – all these while some government officials are being
excused from following their very own policies and laws.

It is ironic that an administration fixated on a more draconian
law against “terrorism” itself remains answerable to the people for its own
acts of terrorism – in its costly war on drugs that has left mostly poor
individuals dead, in its attacks on Lumad communities fighting for their
ancestral land and right to education, in its treatment of media institutions
critical of its policies, and even in the violent pronouncements of the
President to State-sponsored rights violations against certain sectors and
civil society.

Achieving genuine peace and order and national security does not require a new law that would infringe on the people’s rights and freedoms, but the strengthening of our institutions and the effective implementation of programs that respond to the needs of communities and not of a few.

On this day June 12th, we again celebrate how revolutionaries established the first Philippine Republic in 1898. It was not a product of an anti-terror law or conservative local forces staying silent or conniving with the oppressors. It was a result of Filipinos staking their lives through struggle so future Filipinos will not live under repression. They began the revolution by speaking out despite huge odds, and bravely fighting for the country’s freedom. Such heroism is what an anti-terror law will destroy.

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