In this article, Salonika and Max expose how the Covid-19 pandemic has enforced suppression of political dissent in the Philippines due to a bill known as the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 which places resistance movements in a pinch. You can also read this piece on the increased surveillance during the CoVid crisis.
Deep Green Resistance condemns draconian laws that stifle the political rights of citizens. We stand in solidarity with the resistance against this law.
Philippine’s Autocrat Passes Draconian “Anti-Terrorism” Law.
In an event unprecedented in the history of industrial civilization, most humans have been confined, for the past few months, to their homes battling their fear and desperation. Meanwhile, states have used this unexpected opportunity to move closer to their dream of authoritarianism. Victor Orban has usurped power to suspend and decree laws under the pretext of the pandemic. Narendra Modi has used a time when courts are suspended to persecute peaceful protesters under terrorism charges. We have, in an earlier article, highlighted the increase in surveillance during the last few months.
Repression under Duterte.
The government of the Philippines has been hellbent on repressing any and all opposition for many years. President Rodrigo Duterte announced a “War on Drugs” months after his election. This ‘war’ gave authorization to the police to kill any person involved in the drug trade without due process. Tens of thousands of people have been killed in the span of four years, with near total impunity for the killers.
Irrespective of one’s loathing of the drug trade, an inherent flaw in this plan must be visible to anyone. Any law along these lines can and will be used to stifle any form of political dissent. This is precisely what has happened in Philippines.
Philippines Government Response to the Pandemic.
The government’s response to the pandemic has continuously reinforced the economic and political hierarchy in the country. A controversy arose in the first months of the pandemic: Duterte and his cronies were tested for the corona-virus in violation of the criteria set by Department of Health, while actual patients were not receiving access to the testing kits. Local Government Units have taken actions to ease the suffering of general people, some of which have been stunted by the central government.
The situation in the Philippines has been accompanied by a rising suppression of journalism. On June 15th, 2020, a Manila court convicted Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and former researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr. of cyber libel in a case widely decried as a political witch hunt. The persecution of journalists has always been a tool used by authoritarian regimes for repressing the democratic voices of dissent. Since this case is considered “the most high-profile case” against individual journalists, it is bound to set a precedence for similar persecutions in the future.
Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020
Now, Duterte is set to take another leap towards authoritarianism using the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 also known as Republic Act No. 11479. The bill cleared the Senate in February, passed the House of Representatives in June, and was signed by the president in early July.
The most contentious provisions include the warrant-less arrest and 14-day detentions of suspected “terrorists”, and the creation of an anti-terror council that would determine what is terrorism and order arrests without a warrant – a function usually reserved for the courts. –Al Jazeera report
The Act has broadened the definition of terrorism. Among other things, it includes any act intended to “destabilize or destroy the fundamental political, economic and social structures of the country.” The power lies with the anti-terrorism council to label any person inside or outside the Philippines a terrorist and arrest citizens at random.
The Act allows the Duterte regime to subject suspects to surveillance, warrant-less arrest and detention for up to 24 days. The Human Security Act of 2007 used to have a safeguard against wrongful detention in order to maintain accountability among the state actors. It monetarily compensated anyone who was imprisoned but later proven to be innocent. This protection has now been completely removed.
In short, the new law allows the state to target, pursue, anyone who poses a threat to the autocratic regime and to unfettered capitalist exploitation. The implications are clear; as one human rights activist commented, “even the mildest government critics can be labelled terrorists.” It is expected that government officials will use this law to chill free speech by suppressing speeches, proclamations, banners, and writings.
A member of House of Representatives has remarked that the act would not include activists and that safeguards prevent abuse of the act. Nonetheless, judging by the history of draconian laws (including the War on Drugs), it would be reasonable to estimate that the law will be used to suppress any form of political dissent, not only ‘terrorism’. Even the vice-president has remarked that the act gives the state the power to call anyone a terrorist.
Nationwide, protesters had moved to the streets to raise their voice against the bill. Duterte’s government has used the restrictive laws of the pandemic as an excuse to deploy armed police in the areas of protests. Opposition activists are disappearing. They are being thrown in jail. The violent crackdowns on resistance have already begun to escalate. Laws like this leave resistance movements with little choice but to become more clandestine.
Salonika is an organizer at DGR South Asia based in Nepal. She believes that the needs of the natural world should trump the needs of the industrial civilization.
Max Wilbert is an organizer, writer, and wilderness guide who grew up in Seattle’s post-WTO anti-globalization and undoing racism movement. He is a longtime member of Deep Green Resistance. Max is the author of two books: the forthcoming Bright Green Lies, and We Choose to Speak, a collection of essays released in 2018.
Featured image: via Unsplash