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Mindanao Ecumenical Bishops oppose the anti-terror law

BARRA, Misamis Oriental, July 25, 2007-The Ecumenical Bishops Forum (ESF) of Mindanao have joined Catholic Bishops of the country in opposing against the Human Security Act of 2007-RA 9372 (HSA) on the political and economic situation in Mindanao, southern Philippines.

“The Mindanao is rich in natural resources and is a potential for the interest of foreign investors on mining industries and plantation of high value crops to feed profit-hungry multi-nationals. Thus militarization is rampant in the countryside and even the cities to give way to what the government calls development but in effect is an aggression to the populace which resulted to extrajudicial killings and abductions of peasant leaders, militant leaders, media practitioners, including church peoples,” said the 42 participants bishops, priests, pastors of the Regional Consolidation - Education of the EBF, in a statement, July 16-18.

They made this statement after a close study and reflection on the implications of the HSA, known as the Anti-Terror Law, on the political and economic scenario in Mindanao, which is predominantly a Muslim-populated region.

The forum described the law as “the oppressive, barbaric and demonic anti-terror law.”

Members of EBF include Iglesia Filipina Independiente, United Church of Christ in the Philippines, Episcopal Church in the Philippines of South East Mindanao Jurisdiction and many Protestant churches/mission stations.

ESF echoed the concern of Catholic bishops regarding the law.

After the semiannual assembly, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) early this month called for the revision of HSA.

The CBCP in a press conference on July 9, earlier called on the government to revise a new anti-terrorism law which took effect on 15 July, saying the unlimited powers it confers upon the army “could become a cause of gross injustice.”

Human rights groups have also condemned it saying it could invade privacy, noting court-authorized wiretapping of suspects. Hundreds of left-wing activists urged the law's repeal at a protest, vowing to question its legality in the Supreme Court.

According to Section 3 of the text, “terrorist activities” are all those actions “causing widespread and extraordinary fear and panic” and they may be punished by “up to 40 years in prison”. Further, Section 19 allows the “allows arbitrary detention of a suspect for more than three days, house arrest even if not upheld by a judge and a ban on all kinds of movement”.

Mindanao has revolutionary movements such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MLF) that has long been in struggle for the emancipation of Muslim Filipinos for a separate state. These groups are currently in peace negotiations with the government.

“In the guise of running after the so-called terrorists and bandit groups in Mindanao, we believe that this law does not in any way be a solution to the Mindanao problems but rather surely aggravates the already rotten political and economic situation, the ESF said.

The participants said he HSA is based on the notion that "the State must be held above all else. The State must wield absolute power, using everything to control the territory and population of a country. This law however not only violates the 1987 Constitution but suffers from what is called a ‘fatal contextual infirmity.’

"With the HSA, the State has set itself up as the absolute power that determines what course people's lives will take by putting forward a very vague definition of terrorism. By so doing, the State has usurped the functions that rightfully belong to God. By playing God, the State commits the highest form of sacrilege.”

The members of ESF strongly called on law makers in the 14th Congress to outrightly repeal Republic Act 9372 and the Supreme Court to declare the same as unconstitutional.

“As church people, we commit ourselves to educate, organize alliances and mobilize the faithful to be vigilant and effectively exercise our moral, prophetic and social ministries,” said BSF statement.

They shall initiate and build strong alliances with other faiths and sectors which are also working for peace, justice and genuine development responsive to the people’s aspiration, said Bishop Felixberto L. Calang of Iglesia Filipina Independiente.

“True to our vocation, we shall continue to offer our churches and facilities as sanctuaries to the afflicted and the struggling people. We shall also conduct fact finding and mercy missions to the communities and peoples affected by the said draconian law,” he added. (Santosh Digal)