CATHOLIC schools in the Philippines have joined the clamor against the implementation of a proposed anti-terrorism law in the country.
The Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines, a national association of 1,500 Catholic educational institutions, expressed serious concerns over the controversial bill.
The group slammed legislators for “hastily replacing an already existing, albeit problematic, law that combats terrorism” instead of focusing efforts on economic recovery measures.
The Catholic educators said that while they recognize the “paramount obligation” of the State to combat terrorism, it decries certain provisions in the proposed law that are “in conflict with the Catholic tenets of treating each person as created in the image and likeness of God.”
Among the provisions that alarmed the association is what they described as the bill’s “vague definition” of “terrorism.”
The bill also mandates the establishment of an Anti-Terrorism Council whose members will be appointed by the president.
The council will empower law enforcement agents to arrest and detain “a person suspected of committing any of the alleged [terrorism] acts” without a warrant.
Under the proposed legislation, suspects can be detained without a warrant of arrest for 14 days, extendable by 10 more days.
Suspected terrorists can also be placed under surveillance for 60 days, extendable by up to 30 more days, by the police or the military.
“These are all valid concerns that prompt a re-examination to ensure that the most sacred of freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution are not set aside as empty promises,” said the educators in a statement.
Earlier, the heads of De La Salle and Ateneo schools in the country released a joint statement calling the passage of the bill in Congress as “ill-timed.”
They said that the priority of the government during the pandemic should be to sustain the health system, support health workers, ensure food, stimulate the economy and provide jobs for the people.
They said the pandemic is a “terrifying threat” that should receive more of the legislators’ attention.
“Listen to the pleas of our people who are already hardened by the pandemic and veto this particular version of the bill,” they appealed to President Rodrigo Duterte in a statemen on Friday, June 5.
The University of Santo Tomas, the oldest educational institution in the country, also expressed “fears that basic civil rights as enshrined in the Constitution will be rendered inconsequential” once the bill becomes a law.
The religious institution also expressed alarm over exemptions of law enforcement agents from any liability under the proposed measure.
“Sadly, this will gradually debilitate the exercise of civil liberties, with harmful results,” the school said in a statement on Sunday, June 7.
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