The Human Security Act and the Rule of Law Political Repression and the Peace Process

Rey Claro Casambre
Philippine Peace Center
8 November 2007

Paper presented at the Church Leaders’ Meeting under the auspices of the Norwegian Ecumenical Peace Platform (NEPP), 7-8 November 2007.


The topic assigned to me is “The Human Security Act and the Rule of Law”.terroractprotestMy task is to make a discussion of this topic fit into the program and objectives of this workshop. More particularly, the question I must answer is, why should we talk about the Human Security Act and the Rule of Law after listening to the updates on the peace negotiations from the GRP and NDFP representatives, and before discussing the demands of conflict transformation and the challenges of reconciliation in the peace process?

Let me start by citing a seemingly insignificant and only remotely related incident that appeared in the news a couple of days ago. It was a simple case of a work of art – a mural — being altered by its owner to please his guests, and the artist who created it protesting the changes made. It would have been a simple question of an owner’s right on one hand to do whatever he wants with something he owns, and an artist’s right on the other, to preserve his or her creation. But the cast of characters makes the incident more than that.

The mural – one depicting the state of press freedom in the Philippines — was created by the Neo Angono Artists collective, as commissioned by the National Press Club, which now owns the mural. The NPC had made some afterations on the mural without consulting the Neo-Angono Artists, after the Presidential Security Group commander commented that it (the mural) had “Leftist” marks. The PSG commander was referring, among others, to the alibata K on the arm of Bonifacio. The NPC had this altered with a heart pierced with an arrow. What were the other alterations made?

Interestingly and ironically, among the other alterations made was the complete obliteration of the statement of concern by the International Federation of Journalists over the Human Security Act, or the Anti-Terrorism Law, which was passed by Congress early this year.

The incident itself has a chilling effect. No less than the supposed guardians of press freedom were intimidated and impelled into this act of vandalism and censorship by what the PSG commander claims was a mere casual remark.

The NPC leadership’s reaction is absolutely unjustifiable and unforgivable. The excuse they offered – that the NPC wants to be apolitical and does not want being associated with the Left nor the Right — is quite lame and unacceptable. Altering the mural to please the PSG and avoid incurring the ire of GMA (who would be the guest of honor at its unveiling) was itself a blatantly political and Rightist act.

But if one views this incident in the context of unsolved killings and disappearances of journalists under the GMA government, the filing of libel cases against them by no less than the First Gentleman, and their inclusion in the AFP’s “order of battle” or listing of “enemies of the state”, then the NPC’s reaction of panic is understandable.

In fact, the NPC’s action demonstrates how terrorized and insecure they have become, perhaps just like anyone who is branded as an “enemy of the state”, despite or even because of the Anti-Terrorist Law, aka “Human Security Act”.

The Human Security Act

This, too sounds ironic, but not altogether strange. The Philippine version of an Anti-Terrorist Law, like many of its counterparts worldwide, has among its most objectionable features the following (slide):

1) failure to define clearly what “terrorists” and “terrorist acts”, thereby lumping together criminal acts and legitimate actions of protest, demands, or expressions of dissent and grievance.
2) imposing stiffer penalties on allegedly “terrorist” acts than on the same criminal acts not associated nor accompanied with “terrorism” or political ends
3) suspending if not entirely denying individual and collective rights, even constitutionally mandated rights, for the sake of anti-terrorism
4) vesting certain entities and individuals with extraordinary powers (e.g., the “Anti-Terrorism Council” is vested with prosecutory and judicial powers even if it is not part of the Philippine judiciary).

One possible impact of the HSA on the peace negotiations is that the CPP, NDF and NPA could be proscribed as terrorist organizations. Not a few high government officials, including the AFP and PNP top brass, have expressed their desire and objective to do so. This would surely terminate the peace negotiations.

Another possibility is that progressive organizations and individuals already listed as “enemies of the state” or “communist fronts” would also be proscribed as “terrorist”, giving state security forces further leeway in acting against these organizations and individuals to suppress dissent.

But the real and greater danger in the HSA lies even beyond its provisions. While state security forces and agencies decry what they call the emasculation of the Anti-terrorist law, that it is “toothless” and not strong enough to counter terrorism and send the terrorists to jail, the truth is that grievous human rights violations have been committed with absolute impunity and at an unprecedented scale and intensity for the past six years, even without the HSA. What the HSA has done is to provide an aura of legality, a legal justification, to an extrajudicial “counterterrorist” action, even if the HSA is not actually invoked or applied on a particular case.

In sum, the Human Security Act is itself a source of insecurity. This Anti-Terrorist Law itself terrorizes a broad range of potential victims.

No less than Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno declared:

… Terrorism is just one means of violating our human rights, especially our right to life itself, and should not consume our entire attention… Terrorism is terrible enough but the mindless, knee jerk reaction to extirpate the evil is more discomforting. The quickie solution is … for the military and the police to use their weapons of destruction under the theme victory at all cost. To put constitutional cosmetics to the military-police muscular efforts, lawmakers usually enact laws using security of the state to justify the dimunition of human rights by allowing arrests without warrants; surveillance of suspects; interception and recording of communications; seizure or freezing of bank deposits, assets and records of suspects. They also redefine terrorism as a crime against humanity and the redefinition is broadly drawn to constrict and shrink further the zone of individual rights.

In many countries, including the US and in Europe, many provisions of their anti-terrorist laws (such as the USA PATRIOT Act) have been questioned, and some have been ruled as unconstitutional or illegal by their own courts. Again, this is not strange, considering that there is no single, universally accepted legal definition of “terrorism”, even six years after 9-11 and the launching of the so-called “war on terror”.

Again citing Chief Justice Puno:

On the universal level, 9/11 altered the face of international law. As the worst victim of terrorism, the United States led the fight to excise and exorcise terrorism from the face of the earth. It pursued a strategy characterized by a bruising aggressiveness that raised the eyebrows of legal observers. The leader country of democracy did not wait for the United Nations to act but immediately sought to search and destroy terrorists withersoever they may be found. In less polite parlance, the search and destroy strategy gave little respect to the sovereignty of states and violated their traditional borders. The strategy which is keyed on military stealth and might had trampling effects on the basic liberties of suspected terrorists for laws are silent when the guns of war do the talking. The war on terrorism has inevitable spilled over effects on human rights all over the world, especially in countries suspected as being used as havens of terrorists. One visible result of the scramble to end terrorism is to take legal shortcuts and legal shortcuts always shrink the scope of human rights.

Are we blaming the US-led “war on terror” entirely for the human rights violations, the state of lawlessness, and the lawlessness of the state? Definitely not. The Arroyo government has its own reasons, and is totally responsible, for tolerating, if not itself promoting, a pattern and policy of extrajudicial killings, disappearances, torture and massacres against alleged “enemies of the state”, and using the “war on terror” as a pretext and justification for doing so.

Despite claims of economic recovery and progress, the broad majority of people suffer joblessness, hunger, spiraling prices, onerous taxes, etc. The economy is largely dependent on and at the mercy of foreign capital, and the national patrimony is being opened up further to foreign exploitation and plunder. The Arroyo regime itself is suffering from a serious and long-festering crisis of legitimacy, rocked by monstrous corruption scandals of its own making. Confronted with incessant protests, calls for its removal from office – either through voluntary resignation or by forced ouster — it has resorted to deception, bribery, cooptation and coercion to ward off criticisms and suppress dissent. But most of all it unleashes the coercive forces of the state against those who rise up in protest.

According to Chief Justice Puno :

The threats to our national security and human rights will be aggravated if we have a state, weakened internally by a government hobbled by corruption, struggling with credibility, battling the endless insurgence of the left and the right; and, by a state weakened externally by pressure exerted by creditor countries, by countries where our trade comes from, by countries that supply our military and police armaments. A weak state cannot fully protect the rights of its citizens within its borders just as a state without economic independence cannot protect the rights of its citizens who are abroad from the exploitation of more powerful countries.

Human Rights and Peace

What does all this have to do with the peace process? Chief Justice Puno points out the relationship between human rights, violations of economic and cultural rights, and the relevance of these to the quest for peace:

The promotion of human rights is also the indispensable predicate of peace and progress. For this reason, on December 10, 1948, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Its two implementing covenants are the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. These instruments not only denounced nazism and fascism, but also recognized that the “security of individual rights, like the security of national rights, was a necessary requisite to a peaceful and stable world order.”

xxx we need to give a broader, innovative view on our efforts to protect the human rights of our people which should consider our distinct social, economic and political context.
Xxx In poor countries, it is poverty that truly terrorizes people for they are terrorized by the thought that they will die because of empty stomachs and not that they will lose their lives due to some invisible suicide bombers. In poor countries, it is also poverty that renders the poor vulnerable to violation of their rights, for the poor will not vindicate their rights in a justice system that moves in slow motion and whose wheels have to be greased with money. And would any dare to doubt, that our national security and our human rights are more threatened by the fear that we face an environmental collapse if we do not take immediate steps to save our seas and our forests from the despoliation to satisfy the economic greed of the few. Again, the realities may be uncomfortable but let the statistics talk and they tell us that in year 2000 for example, 300,000 people all over the world died due to violence in armed conflicts but as many people die each and every month because of contaminated water or lack of adequate sanitation.

In the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal Second Session on the Philippines held in The Hague, Netherlands in March 2007, the plaintiffs – organizations of human rights victims under the Arroyo government – declared in their Summation:

… we have shown that these gross and systematic violations of civil and political rights, of social, economic and cultural rights, and of the right to national self-determination and independence, are distinct but at the same time not isolated from each other. They are closely and intrinsically interrelated.

1. The poverty and social injustice brought about by the economic plunder, rampant graft and corruption, and other violations of their social, economic and cultural rights by the Defendants are pushing the great majority of the people, especially the toiling peoples, to protest their condition and fight for better social conditions.

2. The Macapagal-Arroyo regime, like its predecessors, uses deception and coercion alternately and in combination in order to suppress and defeat the peoples’ protests and struggle for genuine independence, democracy and social justice. But as the people’s movements gain strength and they become less vulnerable to deception, the Macapagal-Arroyo regime and its foreign patrons increasingly resort to the coercive forces at its disposal. It does so for its own political survival, for retaining and protecting its narrow economic interests, and to protect the interests of its foreign patrons, especially US imperialism.

Our role and contribution

This brings us to where the peace negotiations currently are, and what we as peace advocates and church leaders can and should contribute in our people’s quest for a just and enduring peace.

What can and should peace advocates do in a situation where both sides appear to be unwilling to resume formal talks? Allow me to reiterate some points I had presented earlier at the Luzon Workshop held at Subic last October.

  • We cannot remain passive in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Rather, these only mean we must work harder to keep the peace negotiations alive and exert utmost effort to push it forward.
  • Join hands in common struggle, seek common principles, aspirations and goals, and work on these together and present a stronger voice.
  • Our advocacy cannot be a function of our perception of how “sincere” or “willing” either or both parties are in seeking a genuine peace, but from our faith and conviction that a just and enduring peace is possible and necessary.
  • Our quest for a genuine peace has as its main content the advocacy for basic or fundamental reforms that address the roots of the armed conflict. (Note: learn from the experience of the Moro people, or from the peace negotiations between the GRP and the MNLF and the MILF).
  • Here are some concrete proposals to address the roots of the armed conflict:
    • Genuine land reform and national industrialization
    • Empowerment of masses through genuine representation
    • Economic sovereignty
    • Independent foreign policy
    • Indictment, investigation and prosecution of plunder, corruption
    • Normal trade and diplomatic relations with other countries
    • Patriotic, scientific and mass culture through education, mass media and mass organizations, cherish the cultural heritage of the Filipino nation and all the ethno-linguistic communities in the country
    • Recognition of right to self-determination of minorities
    • Cancellation of unjust, onerous foreign debts
    • Truce for the purpose of alliance and other constructive purposes

(These are the items in the NDFP’s “Concise Proposal for an Immediate and Just Peace, presented to the GRP in August 2005)

  • Take a long view of the peace process
    • Tactically, what to do under conditions that Arroyo government has no intention of proceeding with an agenda that will address the roots of the armed conflict;
      • Study the process, especially the bilateral agreements (see The GRP-NDFP Peace Negotiations). Pay special attention to The 1992 Hague Joint Declaration, on p.1)
      • Call for the resumption of the formal talks
      • Absent the resumption, call for the operationalization of the JMC (to address the complaints vs EJKs and other violations of both sides.)
      • Take a position on the problems and issues, eg the recent arrest and raids, and political
    • Strategically or in the long term, view the peace process beyond GMA whether or not she remains de-facto president before, up to or beyond 2010. Peace negotiations has spanned and can continue to span different administrations (Ramos, Estrada, GMA), and will certainly outlive GMA

Briefly, here are some suggested concrete measures:
1. Protection of Human Rights

1.1. Call on the government to repudiate “Oplan Bantay Laya” and the AFP policy and practice of branding its critics, progressives, peace advocates, etc as “enemies of the state”, which have been pointed out by the UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial Killings, Philip Alston, as having resulted in extra-judicial executions and other violations of human rights.
1.2. Call for the immediate reactivation or resumption of meetings of the Joint Monitoring Committee even while the formal talks remain suspended.

2. Social and Economic Reforms

2.1. Work for the resumption of formal talks so that the formal negotiations on the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms, which had started in April 2001 can resume.
2.2. Hold widespread consultations, fora, roundtable discussions, education and information campaigns, etc. on the draft proposals of the GRP and NDFP.

3. Resumption of formal talks

3.1. Call for the immediate resumption of formal talks on the basis of The Hague Joint Declaration and other bilateral agreements.
3.2. Support the proposal for a ceasefire based on a concise agreement for an immediate just peace
3.3. Support the formation of technical working groups and groups of experts to accelerate the talks.

Finally, I would like to conclude by giving my two cents’ worth on two points raised in the very frank and animated discussion last night:

Can genuine peace be achieved through the bilateral peace negotiations alone? (No. The bilateral negotiations are an important or essential arena, but only one of many.)
Can genuine peace be achieved by the removal – by forced resignation, ouster, or whatever — of GMA alone?
No. This is the clear lesson from EDSA 1 and 2 (or People Power 1 and 2).

But is the removal of GMA necessary to achieve genuine peace? We still have the rest of this morning and the whole afternoon to answer this question.

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