THIS is the first draft of a letter to my district’s congresswoman, to ask how she voted on the proposed anti-terrorism bill.
I am sharing this here to gather your suggestions, kind reader, and also to ask you to consider getting in touch with your district’s lawmaker as well.
You may want to tag them in a Facebook post, send your letter to their staff via Messenger, or send them a polite and friendly email if their address is listed on congress.gov.ph.
And yes, my district lawmaker’s preferred nickname is Lolypop. I will, of course, address her more formally in the actual letter. Relax.
This is what I hope to say.
My dear congresswoman: I hope this message finds you safe and well, and I hope it’s not too late.
News reports about how the House of Representatives approved the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 on final reading last Thursday, June 4, do not indicate how you voted.
May I ask if you were among the 167 who voted yes, the 36 who voted no or the 29 who abstained? As a follow-up, may I please ask for the reasons behind your vote?
This is a strange and often bewildering season we find ourselves in. In a climate of anxiety and fear, it can take more effort than usual to think clearly.
I don’t agree with those who say the conversation about preventing terrorism is ill-timed. Terrorism is a real threat, although it sometimes comes from quarters where we least expect it, like the agencies who are supposed to serve and protect us.
What I hope will happen, though, is that Congress will act on this bill with less haste. That you will all take the time to listen to suggestions, such as those from lawyers’ groups who have offered to help refine the bill so that its provisions will align with the 1987 Constitution and the protection of human rights.
At least go through the bicameral conference process and along the way help us, your constituents, understand this important discussion better.
These are the provisos I am most concerned about and most curious to hear your views on. I am sure many citizens feel the same way and many will disagree: the beauty of the system we’ve chosen to govern ourselves by is that it compels us to live with differences in opinion, although social media have not helped us mature faster in this regard. But I digress.
First, as written, this draft law empowers the Anti-Terror Council to order the arrest of suspected terrorists even in the absence of a court warrant. Second, it allows state authorities to detain these individuals for up to 24 days, without charges being filed. (That’s even longer than the prescribed quarantine period for this pandemic!)
Third, its safeguards are too flimsy. It is difficult to believe there is no risk that “advocacy, protest, dissent, stoppage of work, industrial or mass actions, and other similar exercises of civil and political rights, which are not intended to cause death or serious physical harm...or to create a serious risk to public safety” will be misrepresented as acts of terrorism.
Have you seen the video clips of citizens being chased by non-uniformed policemen inside the University of the Philippines campus last Friday morning, when all they did was express—while wearing masks and keeping a safe distance from one another—their opposition to the anti-terror bill? Granted, they broke the rule against mass gatherings in the midst of a community quarantine, yet was there really no peaceful way to disperse them?
The sight reminded me of something the American history professor Timothy Snyder wrote: “For violence to transform not just the atmosphere but also the system, the emotions of rallies and the ideology of exclusion have to be incorporated into the training of armed guards. These first challenge the police and military, then penetrate the police and military, and finally transform the police and military.”
As your constituent, I appeal to you not to help unleash the terrifying power of the state on its own citizens. Please give yourselves more time to study this bill more carefully. Please listen.