A Catholic prelate in the Philippine capital warned against an anti-terror bill, which is just waiting for the signature of President Rodrigo Duterte to become law, describing it as “very alarming.”
Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan said the earlier reaction of church leaders, who condemned the proposed measure, was not exaggerated.
The bishop noted that even in the absence of an anti-terrorism law, warrantless arrests have been made in the context of the government’s anti-illegal drugs “war” and in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
Bishop David cited the case of an elderly fish vendor who was arrested while buying fish during the pandemic lockdown.
After being presented before the court where he pleaded guilty, the judge sentenced the man to imprisonment of 10 days but was freed immediately because he had been detained for 14 days already.
“The family was so poor the fish vendor and his family didn’t have mobile phones to communicate,” said Bishop David.
The bishop said there have been about 600 arrests in the city of Navotas, in the outskirts of the capital, where people were asked to pay 3,500 each for bail.
He said it would be better for the government to understand the plight of the poor in times of crisis and penalize them for quarantine or curfew violations with civic work instead of detention.
Bishop David said it is easy for people living comfortable lives to say the poor are hardheaded.
“The poor, the informal settlers, cannot afford not to work because they will have nothing to eat,” he said.
In the height of the government’s “war” against illegal drugs, Bishop David led in the establishment of community-based drug rehabilitation programs that help drug dependents recover.
“The Church cannot agree that people who were drug addicts are hopeless cases. We will never surrender to hopelessness,” he said.
He described the introduction of the anti-terror bill as “surprising,” calling it “very divisive at this time.”
“It’s like we are dangerously sliding back to authoritarian rule,” he said, adding that arrests without warrant are prohibited by law but is “being done all the time.”
“We are aware that the government is using the law against legitimate dissent, and this is being committed by most governments, not just this government,” said the bishop.
The anti-terrorism bill, recently passed by Congress, is set to be signed into law by Duterte.
Critics said the bill carries a vague definition of “terrorism” that offers little distinction between organizations that commit acts of terror and revolutionary armed movements.
The bill will provide law enforcers with broad powers to determine what constitutes a “terrorist,” shifting the burden of proof to suspected individuals and organizations.