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Filipino prelate warns against labeling citizens 'terrorists'

Controversial anti-terror law could be used to silence dissenters, says Bishop Broderick Pabillo
Bishop Broderick Pabillo of Palawan says law and evidence should prevail in filing a case against suspected terrorists in the Philippines

Bishop Broderick Pabillo of Palawan says law and evidence should prevail in filing a case against suspected terrorists in the Philippines. (Photo: Mark Saludes/UCA News)

Published: August 02, 2023 12:22 PM GMT
Updated: August 03, 2023 03:59 AM GMT

A Catholic prelate in the Philippines has advised caution while the government designates citizens as terrorists under a sweeping law.

The government of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Aug. 1 designated a suspended opposition lawmaker, who owned a private army, and 12 others as terrorists.

Bishop Broderick Pabillo of Palawan said law and evidence should prevail in filing a case against suspected terrorists.

“When we questioned the Anti-Terror Law, we never questioned the wisdom of Congress in enacting the law. What we wanted was to invalidate certain provisions which we believed were unconstitutional,” Bishop Pabillo told UCA News.

The controversial law could silence dissenters, but its implementation is necessary for peace and order, said Bishop Pabillo, also an anti-terror law petitioner.

“There’s no question as to its legality. The Supreme Court ruled that it was constitutional. But the designation or the declaration of people as terrorists is put into question,” Bishop Pabillo added.

The Anti-Terror Council has named the suspended Negros Oriental lawmaker, Arnolfo Teves, as the alleged mastermind of the gruesome murder of his political rival,  Negros Oriental Governor Roel Degamo, and has tagged him as a “terrorist” for founding the “Teves,” a private army.

Teves along with his brother and former governor Pryde Henry Teves, and 10 others were charged with terrorism in the province of Negros Oriental in the Visayas region through Resolution No. 63, dated July 26. 

“The Anti-Terror Council may designate an individual, group of persons, or association, whether domestic or foreign, upon finding of probable cause that they commit, or attempt to commit, or conspire in the commission of the acts of terrorism,” Jose Crispin Remulla, justice secretary, told UCA News.

Remulla, who is a member of the council, said Teves could be arrested to face the charges after a warrant was released by a judge.

The evidence gathered by the Anti-Terror Council compels us not to treat the killings and abuses as independent and isolated crimes because “these acts were committed not just for injury of people or to grab property,” Jonathan Malaya, undersecretary of the Department of the Interior, told reporters on Aug. 1.

Bishop Pabillo, however, agreed that private armies should be dismantled if they commit terrorist acts.

“If the findings are clear and there is evidence, the law has to prevail.”

“What we were against is the weaponization of the law against government critics and dissenters,” he said.

Teves, however, said the terror tag was “ruthless” and an abuse of power by his rivals in the government.

“The law is being weaponized to single out one person. Whatever the law, it can be abused,” his lawyer, Ferdinand Topacio, said at a press conference on Aug. 1.

Topacio said the government was guilty of “persecuting” his client for being a member of the opposition party.

“This is a very dangerous precedent. If this could be done to an enemy of the government, it could be done to anybody,” Topacio added.

The Philippine National Police in a report in 2021 said that there were 155 private armies across the country, funded by mostly politicians, and 112 of them are reported to be “active.”

There was no law in the Philippines to penalize private armies and their financiers until Teves was tagged under the Anti-Terror Law.

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