Pastoral Guidance on the Anti Terror Bill
Dear brothers and sisters in the Church of Lingayen Dagupan:
As a pastor, I too am dismayed by what terrorists have done throughout the world and in the Philippines. After all, Catholic clergy and laity have been victims, as have other Christian faithful, many of them slain in very brutal ways. There is no way a bishop like me can abet, support or approve of such barbarity.
When I make of public record then my reservations about the Anti-Terrorism Bill that has been submitted for presidential approval, I do so with the most strenuous objection to deeds of terrorism, and to its projects. Terrorism can never be the way of God. It cannot make any claim to be holy.
However, I am seriously disturbed that many provisions of the bill, in a desire to nip terrorism in the bud, also transgress fundamentally guaranteed liberties. The right to be arrested and detained only upon a court-issued warrant is merely one of the issues I have among others. The vast powers conferred on the Anti-Terrorism Council, as proposed, are frightening in their breadth and scope.
More troublesome however is the vagueness of the provisions defining terrorism and defining the crime of terrorism. While I appreciate the fact that actions such as rallies, labor strikes and protests and other similar actions are not included in the penal scope of the law, still distinctions are not so easy to make in practice. It is a sad experience we have that over-zealous police officers and over-enthusiastic prosecutors can always make out a case even where there is none.
I respectfully urge government then not to rush to the approval and enforcement of the law. I beg for a thorough re-study of the law, with as wide a base of consultation as possible, while keeping to international standards. While it may be true that provisions of our bill were culled from provisions of similar laws in other jurisdictions, this is no guarantee that they pass the bar of moral scrutiny.
We can and should resist terrorism — and at the same time take care that the State itself does not use terror on the citizens to banish terror from our country.
Then Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. (Mt.26:52)
From the Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist, Dagupan City, June 11, 2020, Eve of Philippine Independence D
+ SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS
Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan