Martial Law out, anti-terror law in? Activists fear worse

Dec. 05, 2019

DAVAO CITY, Philippines — Human rights advocates are alarmed at the military’s push for the passage of amendments to the Human Security Act (HSA) in exchange of the lifting of martial law in Mindanao.

Karapatan-Southern Mindanao secretary general Jay Apiag said that the proposed amendments are dangerous as they would result to “wholesale violation on people’s rights” including rights to freedom of expression, due process, hold political beliefs, among others.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana recently said he already submitted his recommendation to President Rodrigo Duterte for the non-extension of martial law, which will expire this year.

He also said the non-extension of martial rule must be explored because potential investors from other countries setting up businesses in Mindanao are reluctant to do so because of martial law.

Local government of Davao City, for one, requested for the city’s exemption to the declaration due to its impact on local investments.

The police and military still assured that peace and order will be maintained even without martial law.

The region was placed under martial rule since 2017 after the Marawi siege erupted. Since then, it has been extended three times, citing continued threats from supposed terrorists and communist rebels.

Security officials, instead, are now pushing to fast track the passage of amendments to the Human Security Act. The measure was first signed into law by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2007 said to aid authorities to prosecute state enemies in the “’war on terror.”

Human rights advocates, however, have criticized the anti-terrorism law as violative of human rights.

“(The proposed amendments) are very dangerous as (they are) actually tantamount to deliberate crippling and infringement of people’s civil and political rights,” Apiag said.

He mentioned some proposed amendments to HSA, such as extending detention to terror suspects, conducting surveillance merely on suspicion, and giving “full power” to the state security forces.

It will not be surprising, Apiag said, that the government will capitalize on the HSA to justify the arrest of legal and legitimate people’s organizations and human rights groups that are very critical to the administration’s economic and political policies.

He cited the cases of activists and human rights defenders who were branded by state security forces and the government as “fronts” or “sympathizers” of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New Peoples Army (CPP-NPA).

Apiag said that the measures are a part of Duterte’s Executive Order 70 or the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict(NTF-ELCAC).

Based on the group’s documentation, there are about 101 political prisoners in Southern Mindanao, most of them are facing with “trumped-up charges”, such as murder, illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

Human rights groups also recorded 96 political killings in the region since President Duterte took office in June 2016.

Of that number, 66 happened in the context of the implementation of martial law.

“With comments and negative feedback to the martial law coming from the business industry and other stakeholders, they are gearing toward pushing for HSA because this will actually be directed towards progressive sector, particulary the political dissenters and activists,” Apiag said. (

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