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Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Anti-Terrorism act of 2020: Do YOUth really know it? #SpeakBeWithYouth

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In the Philippines, ages 15 to 30 are considered to be a part of the youth. According to United Nations Population Fund (UNPF), “30 million young people between the ages of 10-24 account for 28 percent of the Philippine population,” putting the Philippines in the map as one of the largest generations of young individuals.

With the continuous change and progress in the community, different values, principles, and mentality are embedded in today’s youth making us unique compared to the previous generations.

We are more open-minded and outspoken as we utilize social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, in sharing our opinions and thoughts. These platforms are also used as a source of information especially on social and political issues. With the use of hashtags and persistent shares and likes, we are able to convey a message that shows either unified support or strong opposition to the pressing issues in our society.

One recent issue that stirred the internet amidst the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, is the campaign to #JunkTerrorBill. However, President Rodrigo Duterte has already signed the Republic Act No. 11479 or otherwise known as the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020. Many, especially from us, the youth, were displeased with this decision. With that, our battle cry remains intact and we continue to voice out our dissent to #JunkTerrorLaw.

As a member of the youth sector, I’m intrigued by the other youth’s continuous opposition to the Anti-Terrorism Act. It brought out my curiosity about their thoughts that drive their persistence. As such, I asked for their opinions and responses to RA 11479. Unexpectedly, their arguments gave light in this unknowingly dim perspective.

Most of the answers that I gathered perceive the Anti-Terrorism Act negatively mainly due to the allegedly vague definition of terrorism and the incessant belief that it is unconstitutional as it violates the freedom of speech, allows warrantless arrest, and imposes excessive hours of detention that exceeds the regular period prescribed by law.

Most of the youth that I asked believe that the Anti-Terrorism Act is against activism. President Rodrigo Duterte is infamous for his unreserved and explicit words along with his outspoken criticism on Communists wherein he labels these people as terrorists (red-tagging). Most aktibistas or activists are believed to be the real target of this Act. According to one of the youth activists that I talked to, despite the safety nets mentioned in the law, illegal arrest and torture of the activists will be inevitable.

The youth dissenters view the Anti-Terrorism Act as an opportunity to abuse power for personal gain. They believe that the limit to the freedom of speech is the government’s response to stop the people from criticizing the Duterte administration. The youth also point out that the government should be open to criticism as it allows them to improve the flaws to their system

Another constant response from the youth is the question: “Why Now?” The discontented youth are bewildered with the government’s priorities. Instead of finding cures and instigating proper safety measures to stop the continuous increase of positive COVID-19 cases, the government still prioritized the ratification of the law on terrorists. Instead of concentrating and seeing the pandemic as the main concern of the country, they gave more attention to other issues including the approval for the Anti-Terrorism Act.

Before I wrote this article, I had similar thoughts as the ones above. However, as I read the entire Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, it was as if I had a Mandela effect as most of my prior knowledge was different than the actual content of the Act. Despite the opinions of having an unclear meaning of terrorism, based on the written act, terrorism is solely defined as an act that brings physical harm, violence, death, and destruction which risks the safety of the general public, which is what typical “terrorist acts” are supposed to be. Although I understand that it can still be considered as vague as even common crimes that lead to injury or violence to a person may be considered as an act of terrorism.

Regarding having activists in a bind, it clearly states in Section 4 that “terrorism as defines in this section shall not include advocacy, protest, dissent, stoppage of work, industrial or mass action, and other similar exercises of civil and political rights, which are not intended to cause the death or serious physical harm to a person, to endanger a person’s life, or to create a serious risk to public safety.” Some supporters of law argue that activists should have no fear as long as they do not cause public harm or destruction.

The law also mentioned in Section 33, “No Torture or Coercion in Investigation and Interrogation”. This safeguard ensures that there would be no torture done to the detained individual as it follows the related rules in Anti-Torture Act of 2009 (RA. 9745).

With respect to to the violation of freedom of speech, this thought may have been instigated from Section 9 which provides: “Inciting to Commit Terrorism“Any person who, without taking any direct part in the commission of terrorism, shall incite others to the execution of any of the acts specified in Section 4 hereof by means of speeches, proclamations, writings, emblems, banners or other representations tending to the same end, shall suffer the penalty of imprisonment of twelve (12) years.” In most of the articles or posts that I have seen regarding this issue, they only mentioned that giving speeches, proclamations, writings, etc. would lead to imprisonment and did not include the specification under Section 4 which gives a definition to the act of terrorism. Thus, supporters of the law likewise argue that we should not be intimidated with this passage as long as we do not qualify for what Section 4 describes.

Upon further research, warrantless arrest is indeed allowed in accordance with the Rules of Court Section 5, Rule 113 under three circumstances:

  1. When, in the presence of the policeman, the person to be arrested has committed, is actually committing, or is attempting to commit an offense. This is the “in flagrante delicto” rule.
  2. When an offense has just been committed, and he has probable cause to believe, based on personal knowledge of facts or circumstances, that the person to be arrested has committed it. This is the “hot pursuit” arrest rule.
  3. When the person to be arrested is a prisoner who has escaped from a penal establishment.

If one shall be arrested without a warrant, one can only be detained for 12 hours for light offenses, 18 hours for less grave offenses, and 36 hours for grave offenses, therefore being detained for 14 days which can be extended for 10 days caught the attention of human rights advocates. The youth are also concerned with the possibility of warrantless arrest as it can be an opportunity for officials to manipulate or even frame those who are innocent, which is not new in our country’s justice system. It would truly be a haven of corruption and injustice if taken advantage of, however, if one was indeed an individual with intentions of causing harm to the public, then it will be another story. The warrantless arrest and even the long detention period would benefit the investigation if justice would be truly and rightfully served.

“Why now?” the critics ask. The proposal of this law begun last July 22, 2019, and was signed on July 3, 2020. However, there were speculations that it was being rushed as it was certified as urgent while some argue that the law went through the official process.

Frankly speaking, the Anti-Terrorism Act can actually for the protection and peace of the country and its citizens— if only it is signed under a different political regime. Some of the youth that I talked to, agree with the law as they have read it in its entirety, however, they are skeptical about how the government would use such an act. Others see this Act as another propaganda that would shadow the war on drugs.

The youth fear for activists as the Duterte administration clearly detests their dissent. Despite the law’s provisions that treat protests as an exclusion from the act of terrorism, the head of the government sees them as such. Today’s justice system is seen by many youth activists as biased and deceitful.

As one youth member once said, “ang batas ay para lang sa mayaman” (the law favors the privileged). It is expected that policemen shall take advantage of the law, innocent people will be framed, and justice will only be served to those who the higher-ups see as right and not the law.

This law is seen as a weapon for the government to use and abuse against those who oppose them, but what if it really is used for the welfare and security of the people?

From what I can see, based on the opinions that I have collected, the distrust that we, the youth, have towards the government, especially to its system and officials, have blurred our views and perspectives towards it. With the corruption and fascist approach that today’s government has done, it’s inevitable for the youth to doubt and think of the worst scenarios to the point of having impulsive and somewhat misunderstanding thoughts. Abuse of power, corruption, unjust justice system, and tyranny, are just a few of the many attacks that have weakened the assurance and belief of the youth towards its government.

This law can actually be efficient for the safety of our country, unfortunately, it was signed at the wrong time, in the wrong administration.

Angeline Diño is a freshman

in UP Baguio taking up

BA Communication

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