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RIVERMAN’S VISTA:  A United Village Against Anti-Terror Law

QUEZON CITY (MindaNews / 18 August) — We often hear and say the African proverb: “It takes a village to raise a child.” One can understand it merely from the point of view of the ‘child’. But a step back and a turn towards the ‘village’ could lead us to a fuller understanding of the proverb, which means that the ‘child’ symbolizes the very future of the village; and that it requires the village’s collective effort – a united village – to chart that future.

This is why many have united against The Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 (also known as Anti-Terror Law or ATL) or Republic Act No. 11479.

The ATL is particularly dangerous for those of us who live and work in Mindanao where development aggression has persisted since our colonial history and where resistance to outside domination and oppression by political and economic elites are automatically labelled as terrorists. That is why many of us have filed petitions against this law in the Supreme Court.

United front against ATL

Despite the pandemic, we saw petition after petition filed before the Supreme Court to an extent that has never been seen in the country’s history. At the time of writing, there are 27 petitions (25 consolidated and 2 still to be consolidated) filed challenging the law’s constitutionality. I know of a few more petitions that will be filed in the next few days.

Among the Lumad and Moro leaders who filed a petition on August 7, 2020 asking the Supreme Court to junk the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 which they describe as “Martial Law in all but name.” From Atty. Tony La VIna’s FB page

To give context, two of the highly contested laws in the last ten years, R.A. No. 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 and R.A. No. 10354 or the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 faced 15 and 14 petitions, respectively.

Interestingly, the petitioners come from diverse sectors of society transcending barriers of profession, generation, and ethnicity.

Either acting as petitioners themselves or as legal counsels, luminaries of the legal profession lead the pack: Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and former Associate Justice and Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales; former Senator Rene Saguisag, former Vice President Jojo Binay, and former UP Law Dean Pacifico Agabin representing the Concerned Lawyers for Civil Liberties (CLCL) of which I too am a member. Framers of the 1987 Constitution, Christian Monsod, Felicitas Arroyo, Florangel Braid, and Ed Garcia, are also challenging the law. Various law groups are have also stepped up, such as Alternative Law Groups, Center for International Law (CenterLaw), Ateneo Human Rights Center, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), professors from FEU Law (with Dean Mel Sta. Maria), UP Law, Ateneo Law, Lyceum Law (with Dean Soledad Mawis) and Xavier Law; and private practitioners led by Atty. Howard Calleja.

Former and incumbent lawmakers Sen. Francis Pangilinan, Sen. Leila de Lima, Sen. Serge Osmeña, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, Quezon City Rep. Kit Belmonte, Quezon Rep. Erin Tañada, Basilan Rep. Mujiv Hataman, and Makabayan Bloc Reps. Zarate, Gaite, Cullamat, Brosas, Castro, and Elago also join.

Labor groups SENTRO, Federation of Free Workers, Center for Trade Union and Human Rights; progressive groups Sanlakas, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, Gabriela, Bayan Muna, ACT Teachers, and Anakpawis have always been at the forefront of government excesses.

Journalists Maria Ressa, Chay Hofileña, John Nery, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), VERA Files, and Foundation for Media Alternatives will be one of the most affected by the chilling effect that the law is set to spread.

Prominent members of civil society such as Brother Armin Luistro, FSC, former CHR Chair Etta Rosales, journalist Ces Drilon, and former UP Dean Luis Teodoro; religious groups led by Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Manila Broderick Pabillo also organized their sectors.

It is a refreshing sight to see youth groups from University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University, De La Salle University, and University of Santo Tomas; Cebu student leaders; and concerned online netizens, who may be gravely affected if the Anti-Terror Law crosses to new media, as petitioners as well.

Three petitions have so far been filed filed by Mindanao based groups. These include the Anak Mindanao (Amin) party-list and a group of Moro politicians and lawmakers, human rights lawyers, journalists, and Lumad leaders and advocates have  petitioned the high court for a temporary restraining order. These include, among others,  personalities like Hataman, former Vice Governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Haroun Alrashid Alonto Lucman, journalist Leonardo Vicente Corrales of Cagayan de Oro City, and Dean Manuel Quibod of Ateneo de Davao University College of Law.

Leaders of indigenous peoples groups (Igorot, Aeta, Lumad, etc.) and Moros such as KATRIBU, SANDUGO, AkoBakwit, Moro-Christian Peoples Alliance, Save Our Schools Network, Sabokahan, Moro Consensus Group, Bai Indigenous Women’s Network in the Philippines, ALCADEV, LILAK also seek protection. They are represented by myself and other colleagues. I am proud to say that most of the petitioners in this case, which was filed two days ahead of the World Indigenous Peoples’ Day, are women.

IP and Moro as the most vulnerable

Of all the petitioners and all the soon-to-be suspected terrorists under the Anti-Terror Law, I argue that it is our indigenous peoples and Moros who are most vulnerable. Not to in any way discredit the possible dangers to other petitioners such as lawyers, politicians, activists, and journalists, but it is a reality that when the eyes of the Anti-Terror Law see our indigenous and Moro peoples, they are the most defenseless and live at greatest risk.

The historical position of disadvantage, most evident in the Supreme Court cases Cariño v. Insular Government (Joanna Cariño, co-petitioner in the present case, is the great granddaughter of Mateo Cariño), Rubi v. Provincial Board of Mindoro, and Cruz v. DENR, among others, along with the government’s neglect to respect and recognize indigenous peoples’ rights through red-baiting or red-tagging, an act of labelling persons as terrorists, would amount to a violation of the right to self-determination.

The essence of the right to self-determination is for indigenous peoples to freely assert their identity, culture, heritage, and ancestral domain without fear of reprisal. The anti-terror law violates that right.

Villagers, stand up

The anti-terror law petition we filed on behalf of indigenous and Moro peoples from the Cordillera to Mindanao – took a lot of work. I have already mentioned the petitioners; I would also recognize the lawyers I collaborated with in that case.

I start with Atty Mai Taqueban, Executive Director of the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center (LRC). Mai is my fellow Mindanawon from Cagayan de Oro and fellow alumna from Xavier University (her law degree is from XU where I also teach) and Ateneo de Manila (we are both philosophy majors!).  Helping Mai in LRC and responsible for putting together the first draft of the petition is Atty Ryan Roset. An Ateneo de Manila law graduate, Ryan had worked in the Supreme Court and is familiar with the in and outs of filing petitions of this nature. Thanks also to LRC colleagues Maya Quirino, Jean Marie Ferraris and Noemi Librella for their indispensable help.

I also acknowledge Atty Joy Reyes, a recent graduate from UP Law, for her indispensable role. She actually helped in two of the anti-terror petitions as she also helped with that filed by the Concerned Lawyers for Civil Liberties. Jayvy Gamboa, a UP Law student, assisted in the  research while Denise Galias helped us with the visual aspects of this advocacy.

We also had volunteer lawyers and under bar people, graduates of the colleges of law of University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila, San Beda, De La Salle University, and San Sebastian, helping us with the petition. Thank you Francis “Kiko” del Valle, Carmela Chua, Jesse Santos, Jonnah Morado, Elainne Encila, Ivan Valcos, Dan Ramos, Kylie Dado, and others who preferred to remain anonymous.

Finally, most of our petitioners are outside Manila and so aside from lawyers in Quezon City and Makati, colleagues from Baguio City, Cagayan de Oro City, Cotabato City, Koronodal City, Malaybalay City, Marawi City, Iba (Zambales), Tandag City (Surigao del Sur), and Davao City also assisted in the verifications and certifications necessary for this type of petition.

In my constitutional and political law, environmental law, public international law, and legal philosophy classes, where my students do moot court exercises, I teach them to always work as teams. I tell them that it takes a village to get big things accomplished. For sure, we practiced that here.

United for the children of our village

What we see here is a broad coalition across sectors of society – a united front – against a law that may authorize possible government abuses. This only shows the far-reaching fears that the law instills to the Filipino citizens of whatever stature.

The united front against the Anti-Terror Law of course goes beyond the village’s action to protect the Filipino citizens, journalists, legitimate dissenters and critics, and indigenous peoples of today. It is best understood as a way to protect the village’s children; to protect their future. For we cannot bear to see that future with the Anti-Terror Law in effect; not today and not tomorrow.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Antonio “Tony” La Viña of Cagayan de Oro City is former Dean of the Ateneo School of Government. He teaches Constitutional law in several schools in Manila and Mindanao)

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