Locked down in our homes and isolated from one another since March, we have been praying for the global coronavirus pandemic to end, so we could start living our post-Covid lives. We pray that when we are finally able to sit down together again, we would find greater humanity in ourselves, to heal the wounds and ease the suffering of our post-pandemic world.

We expect the Church and the State to lead in this, together. The Church has to restore to the faithful their right to the Holy Mass and the Sacraments, and to redouble its zeal in its mission to win souls. The State must restore to the people the rights and liberties that have been curtailed or abbreviated by Covid-19. Clearly the Church wants to go back to its normal practices, but is the State not inclined to exploit the crisis further for its own ends? What we see in Congress today is most alarming.

Despite the enormous difficulty imposed by the lockdown, the Congress has fast-tracked an urgent anti-terrorism bill, without instructive public debates or substantive media reporting. The bill potentially affects every inhabitant of this country, but only the members of Congress had a chance to discuss it. Its declared purpose is to protect the people and the state from terrorism, but given the way things work, citizens with certain political views could become hapless victims in the hands of an aggressive state.

Absent a standing party opposition, no political group has dared to challenge the controversial bill, except for an ecumenical group of Church leaders led by Bishop Broderick Pabillo, the Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Manila, and joined by other Catholic bishops and non-Catholic church leaders. Since the bill has passed third reading in both Houses, President Duterte may now sign it into law. But given the fast-growing opposition from the churches, that could ignite a firestorm.

Duterte cannot afford such a firestorm amid the various economic and social problems created by the extended lockdown. If the anti-terrorism bill threatens to blow up in his face, he should have the courage to veto it, and replace it with a new bill that does not have the objectionable features of the present one. He can do this by listening attentively to the objections.

Church leaders’ statement

A statement of One Faith, One Nation, One Voice on the proposed Anti-Terrorism Law:

With the Anti-Terrorism Bill speeding toward becoming a law, we, Church leaders, must speak out and vehemently oppose its passage on the following grounds:

1. An overly broad and amorphous usage of the term “terrorism,” which will surely be utilized by state forces for attacks on dissent and curtailment of human rights and civil liberties.

2. A weakening of the judicial system and the constitutionally enshrined function to check
and balance the actions of other branches of government, including state forces under the Executive Branch.

3. Allowances for surveillance, wire-tapping, and invasion of privacy of any individual on mere suspicion of being an alleged terrorist, even without any evidence of wrongdoing.

4. Warrantless arrests and detention of persons for a period of fourteen days without charges.

5. Removal of financial penalties to be awarded to persons detained under false pretense as well as other safeguards against abuse by police officers and soldiers, thus increasing the likelihood of gross impunity for misconduct by state forces.

We believe that the Anti-Terrorism Bill will insiduously strip away respect for human rights and other civil liberties. A thriving democracy upholds freedom of speech, the rights to assembly and association, the right to expression of beliefs, and other inalienable rights of our people.

Church people have sought to model right conduct and democratic discourse, even as we have also endured insults, false testimonies, and malicious bullying from the current dispensation in these last four years. We have expressed alarm over the recycled military men, who have occupied many high-level posts in the national government. We have expressed our criticisms on the curtailment of civil liberties, the attacks on legitimate voices of dissent, the failures in upholding Philippine sovereignty and interests, and the widespread killings and human rights violations that have gripped this country. And we have continued to speak out against the warrantless arrests of thousands under a noxious use of Article 151 of the Revised Penal Code “Resistance and Disobedience to Persons of Authority or their Agents,” during more than two months under ‘lockdown.’

With the passage of the Anti-Terror Bill looming, we are like Queen Esther (Esther 4:14, NRSV) who is compelled to step forward and expose the sinister plot to destroy her people. This bill will cause a further shrinking of democratic space and weakening of public discourse that will be detrimental to our nation. Likely to be misused and abused by those who wish to “lord it over” the Filipino people, obliterate opposition, and quell even the most legitimate dissent, the Anti-Terrorism Bill is ominous with features that reek of the dark days of the Marcos martial law. The militarists have the ear and probably the heart of the legislature. We are speaking, even as we recognize that to do so is dangerous. For such a time as this, to remain silent only assures the impending destruction and abuse of our people.

Most Rev. Broderick S. Pabillo, D.D., Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Manila; Most Rev. Gerardo Alminaza, D.D., Bishop of San Carlos & Co-convenor of Church people & Workers Solidarity; Bishop Reuel Norman Marigza, General Secretary, National Union of Churches in the Philippines; Most Rev. Rhee M. Timbang, Obispo Maximo, Iglesia Filipina Independiente; Bishop Emergencio Padillo, United Church of Christ in the Philippines; Bishop Joel Porlares, Ecumenical Bishops Forum; Bro. Armin Luistro, FSC, Provincial Superior, De La Salle Brothers in East Asia; Dr. Marita Wasan, past president, Sangguniang Laiko ng Pilipinas; Dr. Edita Burgos, D. Ed. Co-convenor, Ecumenical Voice for Human Rights and Peace; Sr. Mary John Mananzan, OSB; Sr. Rosalind Tanhueco, OSB, Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation; Sr. Mary Jane Caspillo, MMS, Coordinator for Mission, Medical Mission Sisters Unit Philippines; Sr. Rowena Pineda, MMS, Chairperson, Sisters association of Mindanao; Sr. Ma. Lisa Ruedas, DC, Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation; Fr. Rolly de Leon, Promotion of Church People’s Response; Fr. Noel Gatchalian, SVD; Rev Marie Sol Villalon, Program Manager Human Trafficking & Migrant Ministry, United Methodist Church; Ms. Jenny Ferariza-Meneses, Co-coordinator, Association of Women in Theology; Deaconess Rubylin Litao, Rise Up for Life and for Rights; Ms. Jean Mae C. Arguta, General Secretary, Katipunan ng Kristianong Kabataan.