We, the members of the Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC), join today’s coordinated actions to condemn the Anti-Terrorism Law recently signed by Pres. Rodrigo Duterte.

That the legislative measure breezed so swiftly through Congress—an institution notorious for the glacial pace at which it conducts its business—shows the unabashed subservience of the ruling majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate to Malacañang. Duterte’s callous disregard of the growing chorus of dissent from ordinary citizens, human rights advocates and legal experts is yet more proof of the Duterte administration’s tragic obsession with suppressing dissent.

While most countries have focused their collective national energies at defeating the Covid-19 virus, the Duterte-controlled Congress focused its attention on crafting a law that is completely useless in addressing the real crises currently confronting the nation.

The tragic disconnect between the urgent needs of the people under the pandemic and the priorities of the Duterte administration and its allies in Congress could not be more glaring. The country is facing an unprecedented economic crisis that is likely to persist and even deepen in the near future. The lockdown of March-May 2020 locked out businesses and livelihoods, directly disrupting the lives and welfare of the majority.  Joblessness rose to 17.7% in April, the highest unemployment rate on record.

The economy’s life-savers – overseas employment and call center-BPO sector are in crisis. The poorest of the poor, the informal workers, their families and communities are badly hit. Restrictive quarantine rules generally mean collapse of livelihoods and family well-being of the urban, rural, peri-urban, coastal and upland poor because of the congested and inadequate nature of their communities, markets, and transport systems.

The urgency of the situation was brought home by the death last June 5 of Michelle Silvertino, a single mother who died on a footbridge after desperately waiting for five days to get a bus ride home to her children.  The lack of public transportation is one of the many problems caused by the harsh lockdown measure imposed in response to Covid-19 that people desperate to re-unite with their families or simply to get to work have been asking the government to address. The fact that this government saw fit to rush the passage of such an unpopular law at a time when there are people, like Michelle Silvertino, literally dying on the streets is both callous and inexcusable.

While we recognize that terrorism is an important national concern, we find no reason to believe that existing laws and policies, effectively enforced, are inadequate to deal with this problem. What we find abundant evidence of, however, is the tendency of the government under the current administration to weaponize the nation’s laws and institutions against whatever target catches its fancy.

The ongoing attempts to muzzle the independent press, the stifling of legitimate dissent, the continuing efforts to undermine our democratic institutions do not inspire confidence that further weakening existing checks and balances against abuse of power will serve the people’s interests. If there is one thing the current administration does not deserve, it is another weapon with which to attack our constitutionally-guaranteed freedoms and democratic rights.

We stand with the broad movement of groups and individuals in calling for the immediate scrapping of the Anti-Terrorism Law.