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KUWENTONG KULE: Activism is not terrorism

By: ATTY. DENNIS R. GORECHO - Columnist/CDN Digital | June 16,2020 - 07:00 AM

Activism is not terrorism.

Despite the gloomy weather, people flocked to the UP Diliman campus last June 12  for a “Grand Mañanita” protest  to celebrate the country’s 122nd Independence Day, notwithstanding law enforcers’ warnings on violations of  quarantine regulations.

With proper social distancing, protesters wore face masks and carried  placards denouncing the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 recently passed by legislators.

They also wore party hats and colorful costumes and brought with them roses, balloons, and food. There were even the Voltes V cake and statue, and someone in a T-Rex costume.

The festive protest followed a  party theme, patterned after the controversial birthday bash of Metro Manila police chief, Major General Debold Sinas where his men were allowed to celebrate his natal day amid prohibition of mass gathering.  He said it was a “mañanita” or early morning celebration. President Duterte has refused to fire or transfer Sinas.

In the movies, the bully kids in the block, who were uninvited to a  party, will do anything in order to get even and disrupt the gathering.

Checkpoints were placed in major entrances to the university in the guise of quarantine procedures but in essence were meant to intimidate and harass the participants.

Many viewed said checkpoints as tantamount to undermining the UP-DND  accord signed in 1989 wherein the police and the military are not allowed to conduct operations within the vicinity of UP campuses without prior notice or approval of the university administration. They shall not interfere with the peaceful protest actions by UP constituents within the school’s premises.

This was a result of a long history of student disappearances and killings that took place within the vicinity of the campuses during that time.

The UP system, adhering to the principles of  academic excellence, nationalism and progressive thinking, is known for being the center of student activism and dissent.

My alma mater UP College of Law released a strong statement where it underscored that the Anti-Terrorism Law of 2020 poses a clear and present danger to constitutionalism and the rule of law.

It noted that some of its provisions are unconstitutional including (a) those that pose a chilling effect on free expression and the right to organize and assemble, (b) those that authorize executive orders for arrest and prolonged detention beyond what the law and the Rules of Court provide, and (c) those that define broadly yet vaguely the acts that are criminalized.

Some provisions, it added, are experiments in suppressing lawful dissent and principled advocacy, particularly the exception to the proviso in section 4 that protects legitimate exercise of civil and political rights, the inclusion of a new offense of “Inciting to Terrorism.”

There are also violations of the separation of powers specifically the power given to the Anti-Terrorism Council, a purely executive body, to exercise the exclusively judicial power to order an arrest as well as to make a conclusion that a person is a terrorist (even on a prima facie basis) for purpose of arrest and detention.

Some of the more important provisions protecting the citizenry against unwarranted arrests and charges have been removed, resulting in less, not more, checks and balances against a law that seeks to confer tremendous power on the executive branch.

Critics warned that the law will galvanize the propaganda tactic of red-tagging” that has often been directed towards individuals and organizations critical of the government, who are labelled “communist” or “terrorist” regardless of their actual beliefs or affiliations.

It is seen as a political tactic that debilitates Philippine democracy by stifling dissent with a chilling effect on discourse and debate. Red-tagging also threatens the lives or safety of individuals.

The UP SAMASA alumni, one of my political organizations in UP,  said in a statement that the “first victims of this weaponized law will be the Filipino activist, the legitimate oppositionist, the conscientious dissenter, the peaceful protester.”

The SAMASA said that the law “will authorize the state to criminalize almost every act of legitimate dissent and resistance as “terrorist,” to spy and eavesdrop into the private affairs and conversations of citizens, to arrest and detain them, and confiscate their property, all with impunity, all without any meaningful judicial intercession or review.”

Activism has been present throughout history, in every sort of political system.

Imagine a society where one can be considered a terrorist for criticizing the wrong actions and unfair policies that the government makes.

Kule is the monicker of Philippine Collegian, the official student publication of UP Diliman. Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, email [email protected], or call 09175025808 or 09088665786).

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