Indulging in fantasies of dictatorship is usually done in the dark, but we know President Rodrigo Duterte is a showman.  

In broad daylight, with millions of Filipinos looking to him for solutions during a pandemic, he orders a crackdown on critics through the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 – a law meant to intimidate people into silence under the guise of counter-insurgency.

Among its most insidious provisions include life imprisonment for those found guilty of participating in “terrorist” activities. State forces can now serve warrantless arrests against deemed ‘terrorists’ or anyone found associating with ‘terrorist’ organizations and detain them for 10 more days than what was previously allowed.

Heavily criticized by rights groups, the draconian “Terror Bill” allows for the easy abuse of authority due to the loose definition of ‘terrorism,’ with law enforcements now authorized to arrest anyone at will. 

Through the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC), the government will now be able to catch a wider net in its years-long pursuit of progressive groups and other organizations it has baselessly accused of having ties with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). 

Make no mistake: the law merely legalizes what this administration has long been carrying out in the dark. It has never hidden its bloody record of harassment, and killing of activists, lawyers, peasant leaders, and anyone it assumes to be associated with such progressive groups. 

Just the existence of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) and their constant red-baiting of progressive communities and organizations through malicious propaganda are enough proof of the dangers of a loosely-defined bill.

But the time for sleight of hands has long passed. Without fear of retribution, the administration now trains its eyes on criminalizing dissent at a time when the free flow of information is crucial.

This is right out of a dictator’s playbook. We must remember the late President Marcos went after journalists, activists and progressive groups first, a day after martial law’s declaration. 

If this administration truly wishes to go after those who terrorize the people, perhaps it should count its own tally of human rights violations that have quickly been stacking up in the midst of a pandemic

Its justification of an excessive use of force to implement quarantine rules remind us all too well of the drug war narrative where the police became emboldened to kill upon the President’s order.  

Instead of solving the prevalence of drugs in the country, the government has relentlessly used its people as pawns in their own sick games. Worse, they have shown no remorse to the victims’ families at all.

How can this administration call to stop ‘the menace of terrorist acts’ while it has been failing the people during a pandemic in a more perilous and more blatant manner?

Duterte and all his cohorts have failed to provide people with the safety net they need to survive what has become the world’s longest lockdown. With insufficient aid, this government has plunged people far deeper into poverty all while clamoring for them to hold out just a little longer.

Instead of putting their heads together to create sound transportation policies in this new normal, and listen to the grievances of the Filipino people, they choose to focus on anti-terrorism efforts. They ignored the urgent needs of thousands of workers squeezing themselves into one broken transportation system. 

The railroading of the Anti-Terrorism Act certified as urgent by the President himself — means to stop the growing uproar of the people over the government’s incompetence. 

With this new law, just the mere act of pointing out an ineffective policy, criticizing the government’s selective application of the law, or questioning the lack of transparency can be considered as criminal acts.

Those that speak truth to power may find themselves behind bars soon. In a Duterte-led Philippines, this means the law can be used to tag journalists and media workers as ‘terrorists’ causing ‘interference.’ 

Despite the constitutional right to a free press, the media will be put in grave danger of being controlled by the government as its essential ‘watchdog’ function can be constituted as “terrorism” in the proposed bill.

This government has long been painting an imaginary enemy through lies, baseless accusations and outright disinformation. It distorts the act of truth-telling with rebellion. It attempts to shift the blame for all the country’s current problems to anyone but itself. 

Enough is enough. The government’s misplaced priorities during a pandemic speak for itself. It cannot hide its real fear of seeing the people take up arms after months of blatant negligence.

Its attempts to weaponize the law and silence the people will not work. It cannot place a blanket ban on free speech with a feeble strike of a pen.

The Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, railroaded by Congress at a time when the country is reeling from the rising number of COVID-19 cases, is the most glaring symbol of President Duterte’s inability to lead. 

It is high time for the President and all his lackeys in his rubber stamp Congress to step down and answer for all their crimes committed while in power, the approval of the law among these.

The Duterte administration has unleashed nothing but terror towards Filipinos, materializing conditions for a dictatorial rule at the expense of our basic rights and liberties.

At the height of an eroding human rights situation, holding government officials to account and scrutinizing the actions of state forces becomes vital.

Everyone must call into question warrantless arrests no matter whom it happens to and to thoroughly probe the ever-changing definition of “terrorists” under this administration. 

The absurdity of having to fight for one’s rights while trying to survive a global pandemic is now a reality. The dictator responsible should not be allowed to get away scot-free.

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