This line is the common defense peddled by government spin doctors and their believers on the Human Security Act (HSA): If you are not a terrorist, why fear? Sounds logical at first hearing until you think it over and realize it misses the point. It’s precisely because they are not terrorists that critics worry about the ramifications of the new law.
The main beef of the critics is the HSA’s “gray areas” that even some Arroyo administration officials speak about. For a law that tinkers with people’s freedoms that can be devastating. Balancing security concerns with human rights issues can’t be done effectively if laws have gray areas that both tyrants and terrorists can maneuver in.
Gray areas can even be more dangerous considering the nature of the Arroyo rule. This government is busy constricting the democratic space we enjoyed since People Power I toppled the Marcos dictatorship in 1986. From calibrated preemptive response to extra-judicial killings of militants—the assault on our freedoms is evident and relentless.
The Arroyo administration is not shy in twisting the intent of the law to pursue dubious ends, which is why the High Court has shot down some of President Arroyo’s executive orders. With a Raul Gonzalez for a justice secretary, questionable charges can be filed against you to detain you. Remember the Batasan 5, notably Crispin Beltran?
It’s the HSA’s gray areas on one hand and the nature of the Arroyo government on the other that is sparking concerns from well-meaning sectors. You do not give a gun to somebody who has the disposition to fire it at will. So why give a gray area-filled anti-terrorism law to a government with a penchant to use the law to terrorize its critics?
Okay, I agree that the state needs a weapon to deal with the changed security setup with the advent of global terrorism. This is more so because it has become a continuing threat with the presence here of the Al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah and Abu Sayyaf terrorist groups. Bombs have killed a number of people in the country.
But an anti-terrorism law should be well thought of and not done in a hurry, like the HSA, which was passed at a time when people were looking the other way, meaning at the positioning for the May 14, 2007 elections. Worse, it looked like the goal in passing the HSA was to list is as an achievement of a non-performing Congress.
It would have been good, then, had President Arroyo listened to the call of the bishops, notably by Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, to defer the HSA’s implementation. Since the law has already been implemented, however, all eyes should now be on the Supreme Court where some sectors have already sought remedies.
Now the lessons. The problem is that we do not examine measures cooked in Congress with as much seriousness as when these become laws and are about to be implemented. It’s a waste of effort and people’s money spent by sponsors of bills in enacting those laws. The HSA should have been blocked before it reached Malacañang.
—Candido O. Wenceslao (I wrote this for my column in the July 18, 2007 issue of Sun.Star Cebu)