(Last of Two Parts)
SENATOR Panfilo M. Lacson stated in his sponsorship speech for the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2019 last year, “I emphasize that amending the Human Security Act does not take away the intent and spirit of the human rights safeguards provided by RA 9372 for persons accused of Terrorist Acts and Preparatory Acts. Furthermore, by amending RA 9372, we ensure that our anti-terror law is clear, concise, and balanced. We strive to provide the state a strong legal backbone to protect the life, liberty and property of the Filipino people against the evils of terrorism.”
In my opinion, this must be clearly stated and understood by our country’s law enforcers.
But what is this Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 all about? Why is it that the Muslim communities in our country are alarmed by this law? How do we defend human rights in the present time of terrorism and violent extremism?
Since 9/11, Muslims all over the world have consistently raised their concerns about a rise in generalized fear and discrimination towards them whenever there was a terror attack happening in the West. Studies have shown that anti-terrorism laws impact most on Arab and Muslims who feel under greater surveillance and suspicion.
Take the case of the recent memorandum issued by the Philippine National Police (PNP) seeking for an updated list of Muslim students from high schools, colleges and universities in Metro Manila. Such memo was described as “police ignorance and Islamophobia.”
The crucial challenge in our country is to enact a law that will effectively respond to the threat of terrorism without abandoning the fundamental human rights and principles that are enshrined in our constitution.
To balance between national security and human rights is crucial for both the success of our counter-terrorism strategies and to maintain the peace and development in Mindanao and Bangsamoro.
There have been long debates about passing counter-terrorism laws. Most of the time, these debates are counterproductive because people see those who value human rights as defenders of the terrorists.
I do believe that terrorism is an evil act and is a gross violation of fundamental human rights. There is a clear and present danger in what terrorism can do to our country. The government has the right and the duty to take the necessary action to protect its citizens. But we cannot pass a law that will justify human rights violations setting aside the democratic freedoms written in our legal system.
The common far right side of our government might argue, “Why worry about human rights”? Why do we need to preserve the human rights of the terrorists?
”The answer is both principled and pragmatic – we must maintain the moral and ethical high ground,” said the Hon. John von Doussa, President of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) of Australia in 2006.
The Philippine government has to find a balance in dealing with the problems of terrorism. Passing a law may not be enough. We need a long term comprehensive approach that involves effective governance, recognition of our cultural and religious diversities, and continued safe spaces for political and religious dialogue.
We also need to focus on the prevention side and focus more work on the youth (especially the out of school) and students in colleges and universities. We also need to provide programs for rehabilitation and reintegration of former terrorists.
Our law enforcers cannot do this alone. They need the help of the academe, private sector, and the community on the ground to address the threats of terrorism.