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Martial Law is the New Normal

Thursday, 4 June 2020

Statement on the enactment of the Anti-Terrorism Law

The last pegs of Duterte’s authoritarian project is in place. It’s foremost engineers in the legislature have allowed 100% foreign ownership of the country’s public services (HB 78); permitted themselves increased electoral spending of 500% up to 1,000% (HB 6095); authors of the so-called “New Normal Bill” namely House Deputy Speaker LRay Villafuerte, likened the HB 6623 to a whole of society approach1, parroting President Duterte’s E.O.70 which adopts a “whole of nation” approach to counter-insurgency; they have pushed for the national ID system. They have renewed efforts towards Charter Change. The House of Representatives also extended the Bayanihan Act for three more months (until September) to give more time for the President to exercise emergency powers to address the pandemic. Finally, Congress approved on the final reading HB 6875 or the Anti-terrorism Law of 2020.

Meanwhile, Filipinos are forced to report for work without mass testing, fearing for their lives but more terrified to lose their jobs, as the promised 30,000 daily COVID tests languish ‘in the pipeline’; the jeepney phase-out program steams ahead in anticipation of the total lifting of quarantine and the return of public transport services; and government still has to raise financial and employment assistance to workers who have lost their livelihoods. Mainstream media network ABS CBN has been shuttered, the verdict on Maria Ressa’s cyberlibel case is expected in a few days, the NBI continues to hunt down critics of the administration, and the President continues to threaten the people with Martial Law.

The Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of government have orchestrated to take down the country’s democratic institutions and processes, together with our constitutional freedoms, taking advantage of the lockdown restrictions to quell dissent, all in the guise of COVID19 response and national security.

We note that earlier laws and policies have been enacted to erode civic spaces, such as DILG Memorandum Circular 2019-116 directing NGOs to submit their profiles and projects for review; the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Memorandum Circular no. 15 requiring non-profit entities to divulge information on all their partners, funders and local areas of operations, under threat of revocation of their SEC registration; cyberlibel law and E.O.70.

The Anti-terrorism law now gives the state wide powers of surveillance and invasion of privacy, over targets far beyond actual terrorists, and removes legal protection and remedy for citizens wrongfully accused.

Indeed, martial law need not be formally declared, it has already arrived.

The new normal portends the criminalization of dissent, prosecution of legitimate grievances, the neutralization of opposing voices- towards legitimizing graft and corruption, plunder, fraud and state violence and terrorism.

The government has exposed who it considers as its real enemy- it is not the pandemic, it is not the extremists, and it is not the criminals, but the people who exercise the freedom of expression, the freedom of the press, those who claim and demand human rights.

Yet the voices of discontent are not fading, in fact, they are growing, innovating, mobilizing and doubling down for a fresh fight. They are breaking down fake news, calling out privileged VIPs, questioning their bills, forcing government to recall bad decisions, demanding accountability.

Injustice breeds anger. Repression breeds resistance. Resistance brings change.

iDEFEND calls on the Filipino citizenry to reject these designs toward full dictatorship and demand that government address the real urgent issues affecting our country. When law becomes the tool of the rich and powerful against the poor and the suffering, it is our duty to resist, and resist actively.