Editorial: Choke-holding democracy?

WE HAVE nothing against any fitting law intended to quell terrorist acts. But to push for House Bill 6875 in an ungodly period of the pandemic, while we have so much on our plate, makes it rather obscene and dissonant.

President Rodrigo Duterte has certified as urgent House Bill 6875, the bill that introduces amendments to the Human Security Act (HAS) of 2007, passed during former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s leadership.

Two House committees had adopted Senate Bill 1083, passed in February with only two senators opposing, and name it the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020. It intends to add more teeth to our anti-terrorism law by repealing some provisions in the 2007 law and added more measures.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque III assures that the bill does not contain any “draconian” provisions that would endanger the basic rights of citizens. Added elements in the bill have been modeled after the laws in countries who have succeeded in their fight against terrorism, he said.

However, much of the beef against the bill centered on the “expanded” definition of “terrorism.” Any swollen coverage at once hits an alarm button for the rights watch sector.

The fear and paranoia isn’t exclusively Filipino. Nations all over the world have crafted their own versions of counter-terror laws and are almost always met with staunch opposition from human rights activists and academics.

A notable process in the crafting of one law, though, happened in the United Kingdom, when London School of Economics and Political Science professor and lawyer Conor Gearty gathered through an innovative engagement of six inclusive seminars lawyers, politicians, civil servants, members of the security forces and experts in foreign affairs.

The series of closed-room fora produced discussion points that were to be passed around to policy-makers. The first five fora centered on the relationships between government and five specific professional areas—legal, media, judiciary, civil society and politics. The sixth session focused on UK’s human rights laws.

The fruit of Gearty’s research helped in the crafting of UK’s anti-terrorism law, but most crucial, though, was that the law aligned itself with the traditional human-rights-oriented model of criminal law, and thus allayed the fears of the rights watchers.

The Philippine version, however, breezed through legislative readings, and it doesn’t help that there is a large chunk of public distrust following law enforcement breaches and unsolved killings of both law enforcers and criminals.

It would take more than terrorism itself to render an anti-terrorism bill universally palatable when the law tends to expand power on one side and diminishes democratic accountability. It would require a big amount of public trust on those entrusted to enforce the law, and sadly, as we have seen over the years, the weather has been far from perfect.