Muslim Stereotypes Lead To Mistaken Identity: Why Bangsamoro Lawyers Oppose The Anti-Terrorism Act
Lawyer Algamar Latiph notes that innocent people in Mindanao are the most affected not just by terrorism, but even more so by prejudices and abuses by law enforcers.
Even though proponents of the Anti-Terrorism Act have sometimes cited the Maute group’s siege in Marawi City as an example of the evils the ATA seeks to prevent, prominent Mindanao lawmakers have been vocal critics of how the law would worsen human rights abuses against their constituents.
Now, four Bangsamoro lawyers have formally stood up for their people’s rights before the Supreme Court (SC).
In an interview with One News/TV 5’s The Chiefs, petitioner Algamar Latiph said that as a lawyer for the past 20 years, he saw the stereotyping that tends to place Muslims in greater danger of prejudice and abuse by law enforcers.
The unfortunate stereotype of Muslims being violent people has caused them to be suspected and accused of serious crimes with impunity, he lamented. Critics argue that the suffering of Muslims at the hands of the government may be worsened by a law that empowers authorities to arrest people merely “suspected” of committing terrorist acts and to detain them for as long as 24 days without judicial charges.
“Ang mga experience namin, maraming mistaken identity (In our experience, there are many cases of mistaken identity),” said Latiph, the former chair of the Regional Human Rights Commission of the now-dissolved Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
Proponents of the law in Congress have used the 2017 Marawi siege as an excuse for passing a measure that blatantly fly in the face of the Bill of Rights, according to lawyers and human rights advocates. Sen. Panfilo Lacson in a June 26 speech said the siege “could have been prevented” had the ATA already been in effect to prevent acts that were not actually committed yet.
Latiph said: “Sa mga Moro lawyers, kumokondena sa terorismo na ’to. In fact, kami po ang nagsa-suffer (For us Moro lawyers, we condemn this terrorism. In fact, we are the ones who suffer).”
Prejudice against Muslims
However, he stressed that the government’s aim of preventing terrorist acts should not come at the expense of the rights of innocent civilians, who end up being removed from their homeland and dragged all the way to the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology facility in Taguig City.
“’Yun ’yung mahirap sa amin, ’yung inosenteng civilians, base sa prejudice, base sa stereotyping ng Muslim, sa checkpoint ’pag may Muslim... ay pinag-iistriktuhan po sila at sinisita sila (The problem for us, the innocent civilians, based on prejudice and stereotyping of Muslims, are met with strictness and are accosted at the checkpoint).”
Latiph cited as example an 18-year-old case – involving the late Abu Sayyaf leader Galib Andang, also known as Commander Robot – which did not lead to any conviction but was found to have implicated 41 persons arrested due to mistaken identity.
The prejudice of law enforcers against Muslims has been documented. As an example, Latiph cited the Manila Police District’s Jan. 31 memorandum directing the profiling of Muslim high school and college students in the capital. Public outcry forced controversial National Capital Region Police Office chief Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas to recall the order, although he claimed that it was only meant for statistical purposes.
On Jan. 13, the SC also scolded the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) for saying that policemen would be “putting their lives in peril” if they conducted an inventory of shabu seized in the “notorious Muslim community” in Alabang, Muntinlupa City, where a drug sting was carried out.
“Just because a community outside of Mindanao is predominantly Muslim does not mean that it should be considered presumptively ‘notorious,’ ” wrote SC Associate Justice Marvic Leonen. The decision added that the OSG’s “misguided, unfortunately uneducated, cultural stereotype… has caused internal conflict and inhumane treatment of Filipinos of a different faith from the majority.”
The authorities’ impropriety meant they failed to comply with the chain of custody rules under Section 21 of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act. The disallowance of the use of the shabu as evidence meant the accused had to be acquitted.
Address the roots of violence
Instead of enacting a law that is open to abuse, Latiph argued that the government should address the roots of violent extremism in societal problems that have continued to linger for decades.
He pointed out that the destructive response by the military and government authorities in their fight against rebel and bandit groups have only led to grievances by displaced civilians – who in turn become convinced to take up armed struggle.
For one, Latiph noted that some traumatized youth in Marawi City see the men in black as their heroes, instead of the government that deployed the airplanes blamed for causing their communities to crumble.
“Kailangan natin ng approach na hindi lang military at physical, kasi ito pong violent extremism ay consciousness ito. Hindi pisikal, kundi kaisipan ng mga kabataan na discontent (We need an approach that is not solely military and physical, because this violent extremism is an issue of consciousness. Discontent is in the minds of the youth, not physical),” Latiph said.
“Nakikita nila ’yung mga military ay sinisira ang kanilang city. ’Yung mga vulnerability na ganito, hanggang ngayon ’yung Marawi, nandiyan pa rin. Sana naman ay ’yung Marawi City ay magkaroon na ng reconstruction, ay mapunuan (They see that the military destroys their city. Vulnerabilities like this, up to now in Marawi, it is still there. So I hope that reconstruction in Marawi City can be addressed),” he added.
Parliamentarians against ATA
Latiph was hardly the only critic of the ATA among those who experienced violent extremism firsthand. On June 3, the day that the House hastily approved the measure on third and final reading, Mindanao lawmakers warned that the law would allow abuses that would only worsen the problem.
House Deputy Speaker Mujiv Hataman stressed that the provisions of the law are too vague and prone to abuse, and said: “This law is not meant to combat terrorism. It is meant to give the state the power to tag whomever they please as a terrorist. Hindi pa ba tayo natuto (Have we not learned anything)?”
“Pag-etsepuwera, pagpapabaya, pang-aapi, pang-aabuso, paniniil ng karapatan at kalayaan – ito ang tunay na nagtutulak sa ilan tungo sa violent extremism… Baka lalong mapalala ng batas na ito, kaysa maampat o mapigilan, ang terorismo (Exclusion, neglect, oppression, abuse, trampling of rights and freedom – these are truly what push some toward violent extremism. Perhaps this law will only worsen, instead of crush or prevent, terrorism),” he said.
Anak Mindanao party-list Rep. Amihilda Sangcopan warned that the law would cause “unimaginable sufferings” due to “sheer terrorist-tagging” triggered by Islamophobia.
“Naniniwala po kami na madadagdagan lang nito ang pagpapahirap at pang-aabuso sa katulad naming nahuhusgahan na mga terorista bago pa man malaman ang aming mga pangalan o makita ang aming mga mukha (We believe that this will only add to the oppression and abuse against the likes of us who are often prejudged to be terrorist before they even know our names or see our faces),” she said.
On July 2, the Bangsamoro Transition Authority Parliament passed a resolution asking President Duterte to veto the ATA “to provide Congress the opportunity to review and address the issues of vagueness, overbreadth and other concerns.”
Duterte ignored the appeal of the Bangsamoro parliament and signed the measure into law the next day. The law was published in the Official Gazette on July 6 and took effect on July 22, the day after the lapse of a 15-day period.
On July 4, Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao chief minister Ahod “Al Haj Murad” Ebrahim asked that the autonomous government be allowed to at least send a representative to the Anti-Terrorism Council or ATC. On July 6, presidential spokesman Harry Roque noted that this was not provided in the law.
Bangsamoro history as backdrop
In the 77-page petition, Latiph is joined by fellow Bangsamoro lawyers Bantuas Lucman, Musa Malayang and Dalomilang Parahiman.
Lucman is the grandnephew of the late Lanao del Sur congressman Haroun Al Rashid Lucman, known for calling for the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ impeachment following the Jabidah Massacre and for founding the separatist Bangsamoro Liberation Organization.
Malayang is the secretary general of the Muslim Legal Assistance Foundation. Parahiman is the former South Luzon regional director of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos.
The petition’s statement of facts narrates the long history of the Bangsamoro people, from the “state-sponsored land grabbing” that sparked armed conflict and the use of extreme military measures to attack civilians during the Marcos regime.
“The government has the monopoly of the legitimate use of violence against its people in the form of military or law enforcement in order to suppress violence or to maintain peace and order,” the petition reads. “But our laws in terms of accountability mechanisms in the exercise of the use of violence are hardly checked.”
The petition casts doubt on the “proportionality and necessity” of the measures taken in not just the Marawi City siege, but also in the Manili massacre in 1971, the Tran incident in 1973, the burning of Jolo and the Maslibong massacre in 1974, the Tong Umapuy massacre in 1983 and the Zamboanga siege in 2013, among others.
“Perhaps othering influenced the use of potent military force,” it says. “Othering” is the act of treating minorities as a separate people, in contrast to acceptance and belongingness.
The petition speaks of the Bangsamoro people’s yearning for peace.
“We want nothing more but peace in our native land. To attain that, the laws against terrorism should stand the scrutiny of constitutionality so that innocent people are protected; so that terrorism is effectively suppressed; so that terrorists are punished; and, so that justice and rule of law prevailed,” the petition says.
“But with the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Act, the Sword of Damocles hangs over the head of the ordinary Filipino citizen especially the Muslims. And the verbal assurances of the government cannot guarantee that no abuses in its enforcement shall be committed,” it adds.
Like previous petitions, the case brought by the Bangsamoro lawyers questions what they describe as the vague and overbroad provisions concerning the definition of “terrorism” and the provision of new crimes such as “threat,” “planning,” “conspiracy,” “proposal” and “inciting” to commit terrorism, “recruitment to or membership in” a terrorist organization, and giving “material support” to terrorists.
These crimes are feared to attack the freedom of speech by scaring ordinary people into silence and making them refuse to speak out of fear of prosecution by authorities wielding too much power.
Eight violated provisions of the Constitution
Because of the vulnerability of Muslims to arrest, Latiph’s petition mostly revolves around Section 29 of the ATA.
The section creates the ATC, which has the power to issue written authorizations for the detention of persons merely “suspected” of committing terrorist acts, without the need for a judge to issue a warrant of arrest as required by the Constitution.
Such suspects may be detained for a maximum of 24 days, which is eight times longer than the three-day period allowed by the Constitution during the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in cases of rebellion or invasion.
The petition argues that Section 29 alone violates eight provisions of the Constitution, most importantly the courts’ exclusive judicial power to issue arrest and search warrants and to exercise jurisdiction over the custody of arrested persons.
It adds that the creation of the ATC encroaches upon the exclusive power of the judiciary to promulgate rules concerning the protection and enforcement of constitutional rights. It says that allowing officers to arrest people on the grounds of mere suspicion alters Rule 113, Section 5 of the Rules of Court.
The rule provides for only three grounds for warrantless arrests: when the person is committing, has committed or is attempting to commit a crime in the presence of an officer, when the officer has personal knowledge that the person has just committed a crime, or when the person is an inmate who escaped from confinement.
Also altered is Rule 114, or the rules on bail, because detained terrorism suspects cannot ask for temporary liberty within the 24-day detention period without charges.
The petition also flags the alteration of Rule 102 and A.M. No. 07-9-12-SC, because the privilege of the writs of habeas corpus and amparo will no longer be available for such a long period.
Other violated provisions pertain to the right to due process of law, the equal protection clause, the prohibition on the enactment of a bill of attainder, and the right to the speedy disposition of cases.
The petition also calls the attention of the SC to the plight of 285 persons, including seven children, who were “arrested indiscriminately and prosecuted” during the 2013 Zamboanga City siege. This was eventually reduced to 65, but not before the suspects “languished for one and a half year,” the petition states.
It describes the cases of mistaken identity hounding the “Commander Robot case” to be “a manifestation of systematic arrest and detention of innocent Bangsamoro and gross disregard of constitutional rights to liberty and personal security.”
“This pattern of repeated and series of mistaken identity, the prejudice, the stereotype, and delegated power of the military and police officer to determine who are suspect under Section 29, has made the application of the RA 11479 uneven, thereby violative of the equal protection clause,” the petition reads.
19 pending petitions
A total of 19 petitions against the ATA have been filed before the SC as of July 24. Besides the legal challenge by Latiph and fellow Bangsamoro lawyers, the other petitions, in order of filing, were brought by:
- Lawyers Howard Calleja, Joseph Peter Calleja and Christopher John Lao, De La Salle Brothers Inc. (represented by former education secretary Armin Luistro), Reynaldo Echavez, Napoleon Siongco and Raeyan Reposar
- Albay 1st District Rep. Edcel Lagman
- Far Eastern University Institute of Law faculty members led by dean (and host of OnePH public affairs show Relasyon) Melencio Sta. Maria
- Members of the Makabayan party-list bloc
- Former government corporate counsel Rudolf Philip Jurado
- Center for Trade Union and Human Rights and Pro-Labor Legal Assistance Center
- Constitutional Commission member Christian Monsod along with the Ateneo Human Rights Center
- Federation of Free Workers, trade union leaders of the Nagkaisa Labor Coalition, and trade union leaders of the Uni Global Union-Philippine Liaison Council
- Lawyer Jose Ferrer Jr.
- Forty-four activists led by Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary-general Renato Reyes Jr., former social welfare secretary Judy Taguiwalo, former National Commission on Culture and the Arts chair Felipe de Leon Jr. and former University of the Philippines president Francisco Nemenzo
- Retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justice Conchita Carpio Morales – also former ombudsman – plus members of the UP College of Law faculty led by associate dean Jay Batongbacal, former Magdalo party-list congressman Francisco Ashley Acedillo, and UP Diliman University Student Council councilor Tierone James Santos
- Senators Francis Pangilinan and Leila de Lima; former senator Sergio Osmeña III; Quezon City 6th District Rep. Jose Christopher Belmonte; former Quezon 4th District congressman Lorenzo Tañada III; Rappler officers Maria Ressa, Maria Rosario Hofileña, Lilibeth Frondoso and Marites Vitug; and journalists Ma. Ceres Doyo, Jo-Ann Maglipon-Marcelo and Rachel Khan, among others
- National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, Concerned Artists of the Philippines, Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity convenor Joselito Saracho, former UP College of Mass Communication deans Luis Teodoro and Roland Tolentino, Rappler reporters led by managing editor Glenda Gloria, among others
- Youth groups led by Kabataang Tagapagtanggol ng Karapatan, as well as the De La Salle University Student Government, Sanggunian ng mga Mag-aaral ng Paaralang Loyola, UP Diliman University Student Council and University of Santo Tomas Central Student Council
- Muslim lawyers from Marawi, Lanao del Sur and Zamboanga – Latiph, Lucman, Malayang and Parahiman
- The Alternative Law Groups Inc.
- Religious leaders, groups and researchers led by Bishop Broderick Pabillo
- General Assembly Binding Women for Reforms, Integrity, Equality, Leadership and Action Inc. or Gabriela and feminist individuals
The Office of the Solicitor General on July 17 filed its comment on the first eight petitions that were consolidated before the law actually took effect.
Taking exception to the fear and lack of protection against abuse, government lawyers ignored documented trends and said: “Verily, petitioners’ villainous depiction of the State’s law enforcement agents is therefore extremely unfair, factually baseless, and devoid of legal moorings.”