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Anti-Terror Bill or the Reichstag Fire Decree

February 28, 1933 – Tensions between the social democratic, communist, and Nazi factions were at an all-time high. Adolf Hitler was on his 28th day as Chancellor of the Weimar Republic, and the Reichstag building just fell victim to arson the previous evening. Regardless of whoever started the fire, Hitler and the Nazis saw it as an opportunity to further consolidate their power by passing the Reichstag Fire Decree, which curtailed most of the rights (particularly to free expression, the press, assembly, and association) under the pretext of “communist aggression.”

87 years later, the Reichstag arson has a new and globalized successor – the COVID-19 pandemic. Authoritarians all over the globe have seen the crisis as an opportunity to seize more power and stamp down freedoms under the shadow of the pandemic. Ours is no exception – from a politically-motivated shuttering of ABS-CBN to suddenly expediting the passage of the somewhat-dormant “Anti-Terrorism” Bill after criticisms of Duterte’s response to the pandemic.

The bill gives the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) the power to unilaterally designate individuals or organizations as terrorists in Section 25 of the Senate version, which is distinct from the judicial proscription of terrorist entities as stipulated in the succeeding section. Section 29 allows law enforcement or military personnel to arrest without warrant any person or entity so as long as the ATC has signed off on it; while Section 26 is a theoretical check by giving the Court of Appeals the sole power to proscribe (i.e. outlaw) entities deemed as terrorists under the Act, the nature of this administration means that they would be more inclined to use Sections 25 and 29 that effectively gives them the unilateral, arbitrary, and dubious (quasi-judicial) power to suppress dissent.

In addition, the period of warrantless detention is intended to be lengthened to 14 days, with an additional provision stating that it can be extended to a further 10 days if the situation requires it. The still-in-force Human Security Act of 2007, for comparison, allows for a maximum stay of three days without any extensions. Both acts exempt law enforcement and military personnel liabilities from Article 125 of the Revised Penal Code which allows a maximum of 36 hours detention for warrantless arrests in which the crime or offense committed was punishable by afflictive (i.e. those with fines over PhP 6,000) or capital penalties.

Furthermore, the bill has added in Section 9 “inciting to commit terrorism” as a crime, a provision absent in the 2007 law. Considering the ATC’s ex parte (i.e. unilateral) power of designating certain entities suspected of violating certain provisions of the Act as terrorists and the power given to law enforcement and military personnel in Section 16 to wiretap communications of “suspected terrorists” for a period of 60 days, the three sections create a deadly combination in which dissenters can be arbitrarily put away for being critical of the Duterte administration.

The guy sitting in Malacañang has decided that he won’t be outshone by his Hungarian stablemate Viktor Orbán when it comes to clamping down on civil liberties, particularly our freedoms of expression, the press, and association. If we fail our sovereign duty as citizens of the Republic, we might as well see the Fifth Republic march straight into an oppressive 𝑚𝑎𝑐ℎ𝑡𝑒𝑟𝑔𝑟𝑒𝑖𝑓𝑢𝑛𝑔¹.

¹ 𝑀𝑎𝑐ℎ𝑡𝑒𝑟𝑔𝑟𝑒𝑖𝑓𝑢𝑛𝑔 (seizure of power) refers to Hitler’s ascent to the German chancellorship on January 1933. Using this term is technically anachronistic but is nevertheless used for context.

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