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A threat to peace in Mindanao

Statement on the Proposed “Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020”

Since Monday, 1 June, the House of Representatives of the Philippines began the final, plenary round of debates of the "Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020", which if passed will repeal the Human Security Act of 2007. Forum Ziviler Friedensdienst (forumZFD), a German peace organisation engaged in building peace in Mindanao for more than ten years, apprehends negative impacts of the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 on peacebuilding efforts in the Philippines and particularly in Mindanao.

Two men embracing each other
© Karlos Manlupig

While the Philippine state has a duty to protect its citizens from terrorism, measures taken to this end should be conflict-sensitive, non-discriminatory, and compliant with international human rights standards lest they have the opposite effect. International human rights law and the Philippine Constitution of 1987 allow for extraordinary measures including limitations on certain rights to address threats to national security. However, these limitations need to be necessary and proportional, based on the principle of legality, and ensure non-discrimination.

The Anti-Terrorism Act in its current version can jeopardize the rights to freedom of expression, privacy, and due process.
By granting wide powers of discretion to law enforcement and military officials, the law furthermore endangers the rights to life, liberty, and freedom from torture. On grounds of these discretionary powers and the wide definition of the crime of terrorism, the law places enormous expectations on both the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police. The legal environment created by it may consequentially lead to abuses by the implementing agencies even when enforced with the best intentions. The measures suggested are also likely to further undermine society's trust in the institutions that are supposed to keep it safe, a trust without which successful violence prevention and peacebuilding are not possible.

Freedom of non-violent dissent is key in preventing the rise and spread of violent extremism
forumZFD fears that the passing of the Anti-Terrorism Act in its current draft will likely lead to further shrinking of democratic spaces as it may be used against opposition and members of civil society who express criticism of the government, while the freedom of non-violent dissent is key in preventing the rise and spread of violent extremism.

Climate of insecurity among civil society actors hampers peacebuilding efforts
forumZFD is concerned that the Anti-Terrorism Act adopts the same overly broad definition of terrorism that has enabled abuse of the ‘Human Security Act’. This led to the targeting of human rights defenders and critical civil society, including the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz. The ensuing climate of insecurity among civil society actors hampers peacebuilding efforts relying on spaces for dialogue.

Emergency counterterrorism measures can also negatively impact existing conflict dynamics
forumZFD further expresses its concern that the proposed measures are prone to reinforcing existing conflict dynamics in Mindanao. forumZFD’s experience with regional martial law in Mindanao shows that emergency counterterrorism measures, while necessary and effective in some instances, can also negatively impact existing conflict dynamics.
forumZFD cautions that overreliance on military strategies in addressing conflict and violent extremism undermines local civilian peacebuilding initiatives and contributes to the culture of violence, while drawing attention and resources from the need to address the root causes and key drivers of conflict.

Counterterrorism measures proposed under the Anti-Terrorism Act may further stigmatize Muslim and indigenous communities and further escalate conflicts in Mindanao
During the period of regional martial law in Mindanao forumZFD received reports of religious profiling, intimidation of peacebuilding organizations at checkpoints, and of the exacerbation of widespread red-tagging, particularly in indigenous communities. Consequently, unless sufficient safeguards are put into place, the vast counterterrorism measures proposed under the Anti-Terrorism Act may further stigmatize Muslim and indigenous communities that are already suffering the consequences of religious profiling and red-tagging. forumZFD cautions that reinforcing these dynamics may further escalate conflicts in Mindanao and beyond.

forumZFD recognizes that terrorism and violent extremism present threats to peace in Mindanao and need to be addressed. However, measures taken need to be carefully balanced with basic rights and liberties and should not reinforce existing conflict dynamics.

forumZFD recommends to critically assess the necessity, proportionality and legality of the proposed measures and make the necessary amendments to ensure the existence of sufficient safeguards to protect from abuse and reinforcement of conflict dynamics.

Philippine lawmakers should aim for a counterterrorism framework that is deeply rooted in conflict-sensitivity, nonviolent conflict transformation, and human rights. Such a framework can be the basis of open, nonviolent dialogue spaces, and the much needed rebuilding of trust between the state and the diverse communities of Mindanao.

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