Friday, August 11, 2006

Legalized Terror: EO 493, ATL, ASL, and the War against Democracy

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Niccolo Machiavelli, in his seminal work The Prince, wrote that a leader ought to have no other aim, thought, nor subject of study but war, for it is the only discipline that will enable a leader to seize and hold power. Arroyo, in her struggle for political survival and eventual dominance, is now on a war mode. Now in control of the three branches of the government, Arroyo fortifies her regime through an edict that introduces wartime tactics into peacetime politics.

On January 17, 2006, Arroyo issued Executive Order 493 directing the creation of the Inter-Agency Legal Action Group (IALAG), a super-body under the National Intelligence Board (NIB) that is tasked to investigate, prosecute, monitor, and handle litigation processes of cases involving national security. A preliminary budget of P 50 million had been allocated for the operations of the new super-agency.

Headed by the National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales, the new super-agency will be coordinating the functions of the Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of National Defense (DND), Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), and other agencies like the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA), National Security Council (NSC), the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP). Under these offices, the super-agency would be coordinating closely with the Intelligence Service of the AFP (ISAFP) and the PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG).

Issued more than a month before Proclamation 1017, militant groups speculated that IALAG is meant to facilitate and aid arrests and legal offensives during and after the declaration of the State of Emergency. As if to validate these speculations, Gonzales, in his speech before AFP 4th Infantry Division in Cagayan de Oro City, boasted that the rebellion charges filed against the Batasan 5 (five militant party-list representatives) was the first major achievement of IALAG.

Atty. Jose Diokno feared that the intrusion of the military intelligence community into civilian functions like filing of cases “threatens the independence of the judiciary and jeopardizes our fundamental rights to fair trial and due process”. Diokno believes that IALAG is much similar to the Joint Legal Action Group (JOLAG) established during Martial Law meant to chase enemies of the Marcos regime, particularly members of the CPP-NPA-NDF during the 70’s.

Irony. GMA decided to attack former allies.

The government resurrected this McCarthyite policy when it announced a “war against the left”, with Arroyo herself promising a P 1 billion budget for the counter-insurgency campaign to end the communist rebellion in two years. The Arroyo government imposed the blanket policy to include all militant organizations, even those not associated with the armed insurgency.

The IALAG, which is operational down to the provincial and regional level, is supposed to organize and systematize the filing of lawsuits to immobilize threats to national security, complementary to the government’s military offensive. “The move is made to answer the clamor of the military that captured leaders of the communist movement easily get out of jail due to the absence of a warrant of arrest and the help of their lawyers,” Gonzales said.

EO 493, however, is merely the first step. For one, it can only operate on and thus is mainly restricted by existing statutes that limit its punitive power. Moreover, the Supreme Court, in the presence of public pressure, can easily question the EO if it unduly or arbitrarily expands the scope of government’s power or if it violates constitutional rights.

The EO, just like any other action by the executive body is, is merely implemental in nature. What it needs then, is the concurrence of the legislative body through a statute. Fortunate for Arroyo, the majority of the Lower House is allied to the Arroyo regime, as clearly manifested by the trashing of the impeachment complaint last year despite the “Hello Garci” scandal.

Unable to proclaim martial law through safeguards of the 1986 Freedom Constitution, Arroyo now begins to flank her way towards autocracy, using her allies in the Congress to craft laws that would enable her to stage a comeback and legitimize her reign of terror. Ironically, she chooses an anti-terror bill to accomplish this.

State of Terror: The Anti-Terror Law

Several solons in the Lower House recently called for the enactment of an Anti-Terrorism Law (ATL), a legislative measure that will empower government forces to counter terrorist offensives especially in the metropolis, particularly in the light of the famous Rizal Day LRT bombings and the recent Valentines Day bombings in Makati.

Current ant-terror bills that had been filed, however, had been assailed regarding their motive and intent. The controversy lies on the contention that the bill expands the power of the Executive at the expense of civil liberties and political freedom. The DOJ, which had been highly politicized under Secretary Raul Gonzalez, is in fact given the authority to state organizations and persons that are to be listed as suspected terrorists.

Partido ng Manggagawa Representative Renator Magtubo expressed his opposition to the bill, stating that an anti-terror law “will give extra license to military personnel to defy people’s civil liberties.” He believed that Filipinos who had been under martial rule and its excesses would not accept a policy that legalizes anti-democratic measures such as wire-tapping and a national ID. Magtubo also claimed that there are enough laws and mechanism in the status quo to prevent terrorist attacks, owing to the fact that military budget constitute more than a fair share and that the President already has her own Intelligence fund.

Several human-rights and militant progressive groups expressed fear that the bill could be used to stifle dissent against the Arroyo administration. Recent anti-terror bills include as an act of terrorism, “threatening or causing serious or unlawful interference with or serious unlawful disruption of an essential service, facility or system whether public or private”. This may pave way for the inclusion of street demonstrations as a terrorist activity as protests may result into disruption of services.

Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL), in its September 20 press release, stated that the anti-terror bills filed “offers nothing new, except the imposition of stiffer and graver penalties against crimes that are already punishable under the Revised Penal Code”. APL fears that, instead of becoming a legal tool to identify and prevent terrorist acts, an anti-terror law may “shroud” the definition of terrorism with a “cloud of ambiguity”, making the country a “virtual police state”.

According to Makati Representative Teodoro Locsin, Jr., the recent anti-terror bills imply that “the duty to combat terrorism devolves only on the state.” Those bills assume and thereby declare that it is the “policy of the state to safeguard and protect lives and properties against all forms of terrorist activities.” Locsin stressed, however, that “the state has been responsible for the most acts of terrorism, as defined by the bill [more] than any other entity we know of.”

Resurrected during the wave of government’s repressive policies, the anti-terror effort will be reducing people’s liberties and increasing government’s power on the very period the legitimacy of the government is in question. This may have been the reason why an anti-terror bill, which is supposedly a globally accepted need, is being opposed. Opponents of the bill may have simply been saying that a government incapable of ensuring a mandate and answering questions on its legitimacy would logically be incapable of preventing its own abuse.

Resurrected Nightmare: The Anti-Subversion Law

Rep. Lorenzo TaƱada, a Liberal Party (LP) congressman, described the anti-terrorism bill as “a revival of Republic Act 1700 or the Anti-Subversion Law (ASL)”, calling it even as “the same dog with a different collar”. He feared that an ATL would be used to jail members of legitimate opposition together with the enemies of the state just like the ASL did during the Marcos regime.

Ratified on June 20, 1957, RA 1700 declares illegal the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and all similar organizations. Former President Marcos broadened the scope of and increased the penalties imposed by RA 1700 through his Presidential Decree no. 1835 issued January 16, 1981.

To end the ongoing leftist insurgency, former President Fidel Ramos pressed for the legalization of the CPP to encourage communist leaders to give up their arms. No less than Arroyo as a Senator herself and Executive Sec. Eduardo Ermita as a Batangas congressman who pushed for RA 7636 to repeal RA 1700 in 1992.

The Arroyo administration, however, seems very intent in resurrecting RA 1700 now that it had already declared an all-out war to wipe out the communist insurgency. Seeing that a blanket policy like the Anti-Terror Law can only attack on the fringes, the Arroyo regime realized that it needs a law that assaults militants and dissidents head on.

Recently, to complement the anti-terror bills filed in the Lower House, a group of anti-insurgency experts in the National Defense College (NDC) headed by retired Gen. Rodrigo Gutang will be submitting a proposal to revive the repealed RA 1700. Gutang’s report will be submitted to the House Defense Committee headed by Rep. Prospero Pichay, an administration congressman.

The ASL would re-empower the government to suppress not only the armed rebellion, but also the militant and political opposition groups IALAG would successfully be able to tag as “front” organizations of communist parties. In fact, those that cannot be covered by the ATL on the absence of an implicating evidence of a terrorist act can now be covered by ASL, which punishes mere association to dissident groups.

While ASL and ATL already legitimizes the undue expansion of government’s arresting power, being legitimate is not enough. Arroyo has to posses a concrete apparatus to realize her political survival schemes. Setting her eyes on the bureaucracy, Arroyo tries to capture the state machine through a new breed of super-agencies.

Bypassing Bureaucracy

IALAG is not the first super-agency that had been established by the Arroyo regime. In fact, the administration Arroyo seems to have adopted as a policy the creation of super-bodies directly under her control in parallel of existing institutions.

It can be remembered that September last year, Arroyo issued EO 463 to form the National Anti-Crime Task Force (NACTAF) under the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission (PAOCC, created by EO 295 S-2000) which is supposed to be an anticrime super-body to respond to increasing cases of kidnapping, drug dealing and robbery extortion. Both NACTAF and PAOCC had been headed by then Interior Secretary Angelo Reyes.

The creation of NACTAF quickly spurred reactions from people within the NBI who felt that NACTAF overlaps and sometimes even supersedes some of their functions. The move had also been seen as having political motive not only because Reyes is a known favorite of Arroyo, but also because it facilitates the re-orientation of NBI from high-profile graft and corruption investigation to police-work.

On December of last year, Arroyo issued EO 474 creating again another super-body, this time tasked to address the crisis in energy and oil sector. The Philippine Strategic, Oil, Gas, Energy Resources and Power Infrastructure Office (PSOGERPIO) is supposed to supervise and speed-up the inflow of investments from the private sector the oil, gas, and power sectors, but had been shelved due to intense opposition from within the cabinet itself.

Industry insiders speculated that EO 747 is part of a strategy meant to takeover various vital industries, such as MERALCO, since there had been no consultations prior to its issuing. The pressure to takeover various industries to reduce inflation had been intense then due to hike in all prices following the implementation of R-VAT. There might have been a strong political need of the Arroyo administration to prevent a political upheaval triggered by an economic crisis.

IALAG, it appears then, is also a way by which the Arroyo administration can obtain backdoor control over the agencies of the government and orchestrate their functions so as to gain political foothold. Coupled by her revolving-door policy in both the military and bureaucracy, Arroyo is slowly extending her hands over institutions of power, making them virtually her very arsenal in her war for political survival.

Arroyo’s actions are logical. Besieged leaders use institutions as refuge when the people are already against them. Arroyo’s obvious tactic of politicizing the bureaucracy together with legitimizing her actions through statues is merely a part of a menacing plan of solidifying the state. With no one to stop her, and all power-holders agreeing to her, democratic checks-and-balances cease to exist.

A dictatorial regime may only be inches away.

Sidebar: GMA's Weapons against Democracy

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