Manila (Agenzi Fides) - "In the midst of this desolate political landscape, we find consolation from the groups of lawyers and ordinary citizens who have filed petitions before the Supreme Court, questioning the constitutionality of the new signed law. Will the highest level of our judiciary assert its independence, or will they also yield to political pressure?", is what the Bishop of Caloocan, Pablo Virgilio David, interim President of the Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines writes in a pastoral letter - sent to Agenzia Fides - who criticizes the approval and entry into force of the new anti-terrorism law, despite the strong opposition registered in the country.
The pastoral letter was read during all the masses yesterday, Sunday 19 July. The new law, which came into force on July 18, confers special powers to the executive in the fight against terrorism but civil rights advocates believe it can be used to repress dissent and freedom of conscience.
Bishop David notes a "model of intimidation" which created a "detrimental climate to freedom of expression". The Letter notes the current critical issues of the democratic system: the way activists were labeled "communists"; the false "sedition" charges brought against the clergy; the long trail of murders related to the "war on drugs"; the prolonged detention of opposition senator Leila de Lima; the "chilling effect" caused by the closure of the ABS-CBN broadcaster, whose broadcasting concession has not been renewed by Parliament. The broadcaster had openly criticized President Duterte both in the election campaign and after his election.
The Bishop deplores the way in which "political pressure from above" has weighed more on legislators who voted for the proposed terrorism law, not listening to the "voices below". "They did not seem to care about the dissent of many of the people they represent: associations of lawyers, academics, economic sectors, trade unions, youth organizations, NGOs, political movements, religious communities and even the government of the Bangsamoro region", write the Bishops. All these groups expressed concern about the vague definition of "terrorism" and "terrorist act", fearing that law enforcement agencies could abuse them and commit violations of civil and human rights.
In the Letter, the Bishops say they have trust in all those who, in and outside the public administration, "act only as conscience imposes and do not allow themselves to be intimidated or prevented by political pressures in fulfilling their constitutional duties". "They are an important element for the strengthening of our governmental institutions and are an essential key to a stable and functional democratic system", they add, inviting all the people of God to a special prayer for the common good of the nation. (SD-PA) (Agenzia Fides, 20/7/2020)