Pastoral statements on the Anti-Terrorism Act

AS Pres. Rodrigo Duterte signs into law the Philippine Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, which amends the 2007 Human Security Act, expands the definition of terrorism and permits the surveillance, warrantless arrest and detention of terrorism suspects for up to 24 days.  Allow me  to share with you some pastoral reflections from pastors from Lingayen, Dagupan and Manila to guide us in our understanding of this new legislation.  

As shared by Archbishop Socrates Villegas, the priests of the Archdiocese of Lingayen Dagupan affirm, “We deeply regret the decision of the President to sign the Anti-Terror Bill into law over and above the vehement objections of well-meaning citizens. It is morally wrong, we humbly submit, to leave the terms of such powerful bill to the interpretation of the reckless and the power trippers. Violence can never undo violence. The Church has long taught that only the praxis of true Christian love has the power to break the cycle of violence. With our government, we decry terror. With our government we denounce terrorists.

Unlike our government, however, we do not wish to meet violence and blind rage with heightened violence and legitimated terror. We would rather as one, engage in the difficult but necessary task of building a culture that listens, that leaves none out, that accommodates differences. This same culture of inclusive listening will soon strip extremists of every reason to confine themselves to the margins of society. Peace is the only way to peace.”

On the other hand the clergy of the Archdiocese of Manila (which includes parishes in Manila, Pasay, Makati, Mandaluyong and San Juan) explains:

“There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers”. (Proverbs 6:16-19)

We, the clergy of the Archdiocese of Manila, are against any form of terror or lawlessness and we condemn those engaged in these activities that are meant to destroy lives, properties and the peace we all deserve to experience. We believe that it is the duty of the government to ensure the safety and security of each citizen.

However, after prayerful discernment, diligent study, critical analysis, and prudent discussion of the nature and implications of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, we strongly oppose the passage of House Bill 6875 and Senate Bill 1083 … Moreover, allowing the passage of a Bill that has vague, amorphous and deleterious provisions will only do more harm than good to our people.

1.    The Bill very clearly and concretely derogates from some established legal principles that are aimed at protecting our fundamental human rights. One’s freedom of expression, rights to privacy, property, ownership and freedom of movement are not anymore guaranteed under this Bill as it allows spying, confiscation of properties and detention beyond the legally allowable time. So, while our rights have been extremely limited, this Bill gives draconian powers to State agents, which, as history will tell us, are almost always abused and mis-used.

2.    We can all argue that we should not fear specially if we are not guilty of anything that violates the laws of our land. But we have reason to fear because of the Bill’s ambiguous and expansive provisions leaving them open to arbitrary and whimsical interpretations, which can advertently make us all vulnerable. Even legitimate dissent or criticisms, which are signs of a healthy and working democracy, may be misconstrued as inciting to commit a terror act. Weaponizing this measure to silence critics and detractors will give this government a free-pass even for its inefficiency, ineptness and abuses.

3.    The proponents of this measure should not trivialize the concerns of those opposed to it. We are concerned not simply because of what they alleged as “trust issues”. Even if we presume full regularity in the implementation or enforcement of this measure, it is the measure itself that poses grave concerns.

So, while we agree that the government is responsible for the protection of its citizens from any form of harm or terror, it shall do so within the bounds of existing democratic principles and processes. The government should not make as an excuse the upholding of national security while undermining human rights and civil liberties. To do so makes the government terrorist against its own people.

Guided by the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), we are duty-bound to oppose such measure, as it is contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of man and to the teachings of the Gospel (CCC 2242). O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more. (Psalm 10:17-18)

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