Press Statement, July 4, 2020
We in the National Council of Churches in the Philippines condemn in the strongest terms, the passing of the Anti-Terrorism Bill into law. It is a travesty against God’s will, as it gives the government, or even just a few persons in the Anti-terrorism Council, the absolute power that determines what course people’s lives will take by putting forward a very vague definition of terrorism. By so doing, the government has usurped the functions that rightfully belong to God. By playing God, the State commits the highest form of sacrilege. It is an affront to God’s gift of human dignity and a threat to all people of goodwill. President Duterte’s signing it into a law, shows that he does not listen to the legitimate cries of the people, especially our Moro sisters and brothers, who appealed for him to veto the Bill. He only listens to his coterie of generals and sycophants.
The present dispensation has already proven its ability to target and criminalize any perceived political threat. The United Nations Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet in her report on the Philippines during the 44th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council (UN HRC) already urged President Duterte not to sign the Anti-Terrorism Bill, saying that the passage of the measure “heightens our concerns on the blurring important distinctions between criticism, criminality and terrorism.” The report of the High Commissioner also cited the numerous violations against human rights defenders. It documented violations including at least 248 human rights defenders, legal professionals, journalists and trade unionists have been killed in relation to their work.
Church people are not spared from these violations, eight of the victims of extra-judicial killings are church people including NCCP members and church workers and even Roman Catholic priests, one of our pastors and his members are still languishing in jail for trumped charges in Negros, the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) Haran Center is being harassed and demonized by state agents and LGUs for its ministry to the Lumad. Even our Roman Catholic friends like Sr. Mary John Mananzan and Sr. Ellen Belardo were harassed and red-tagged, while Sr. Patricia Fox was deported. The NCCP, UCCP, and the Iglesia Filipina Independiente are among the 245 non-government organizations, people’s organizations and institutions red-tagged by Philippine government.
The report shows that even without the law, our rights as a people are clearly being trampled upon. Having this Law in our midst will all the more legitimize these atrocities. In these critical times, it is important that we have the international community by our side. Thus, we implore the members of the UN Human Rights Council to accept the recommendations of Ms. Bachelet, especially that of an independent investigation of the Council to look into the human rights situation in the Philippines.
In the face of these challenges when lives of human rights activists and defenders, and those that are critical of the government are at risk, and where the common folk is perceived as enemies, it is hard to expect that an administration like that of Duterte will be most loving to its people. Thus, the announcement by DOJ Secretary Menardo Guevarra at the UN HRC that his department will lead a judicious review of the drug-related killings should be taken with a grain of salt. The domestic remedies promised by the administrations in the past, like the Melo Commission and Task Force Usig during the time of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and even former President Benigno Aquino III’s Administrative Order 35, failed to deliver and the families of victims of extrajudicial killings during those times are still continuing their vigils for justice and accountability. My church, the UCCP, filed a suit against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, for the killings and other rights violations of our clergy and church workers during her administration, but it did not prosper. With the Anti-Terrorism Law, domestic mechanisms for human rights accountability will be next to impossible.
That is the reason why the NCCP, with EcuVoice, has been involved in advocacy and lobbying at the UN Human Rights Council and other international fora since 2008, because domestic remedies have failed and are failing. But even within the UNHRC, we have witnessed how the Philippine government made pledges and commitments to the Council that it shall abide by international human rights instruments and international humanitarian law, but the rhetoric did not become a reality.
But we are Easter people living in a Good Friday world. Just like in the Bible which is filled with examples of God’s people throwing off the chains of oppression and rising up for justice and peace, the Filipino people have proven their own ability to accomplish this during two successful People Power uprisings. After years of resistance and sacrifice for the sake of democracy and basic human rights, we must not be so quick to forgive and forget as to allow the current administration to clear the path straight back to the same position of oppression and unrestricted power. We know that so long as we stand on the side of the oppressed, of justice, and of the people, the almighty God is on our side, we know that we are at the right side of history. We are one with the people and the international community in the call to #JUNKTERRORLAW!
Bishop Reuel Norman O. Marigza
General Secretary, NCCP