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Reports fail to question "overwhelming" support for the Anti-Terror Bill | CMFR

Reports fail to question “overwhelming” support for the Anti-Terror Bill

Screengrab from Inquirer.net.

AMID GROWING criticism from different sectors against the so-called Anti-Terror Bill, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque touted support from an “overwhelming majority” of local government executives based on a document from Interior Secretary Eduardo Año allegedly showing the support of 784 local government executives – composed of 43 governors, 68 city mayors, and 673 municipal mayors – for the bill.

Documents cited in media reports showed that as early as June 11, manifestos in support of the bill from the Philippine National Police had been making the rounds among local government executives, but this campaign went unreported.

With the controversial bill awaiting the president’s signature, Roque’s claim hardly gained media attention. None of the three major broadsheets or four newscasts reported his claim.

The Daily Tribune alone carried the government’s narrative without question. CMFR checked and found similar stories in regional newspapers such as the Mindanao Times and Cordillera Express, which did not check the accuracy of the claim either.

News accounts did not ask why the PNP was involved in the campaign to gain local support for the anti-terror bill. Such efforts by the police are necessarily threatening, and the results should be questioned.

CMFR monitored reports from the three major Manila broadsheets (Manila Bulletin, Philippine Daily Inquirer and The Philippine Star); four primetime newscasts (ABS-CBN 2’s TV Patrol, CNN Philippines’ News Night, GMA-7’s 24 Oras and TV5’s One Balita); as well as selected news websites from June 13 to June 20, 2020.

“Overwhelming majority”

Roque’s statement could have fallen into the black hole of incredible statements that boast of how well the government is doing its job and dismissed as government propaganda. But the Anti-Terror bill gives so much power to public officials to decide who can be arrested and detained on terror charges. Journalists are red-tagged often enough, and the CPP has been painted as a terrorist organization by the administration. Nothing about the terror law should escape media scrutiny.

Rappler’s report did well to check Roque’s claim, pointing out that the numbers cited do not constitute an “overwhelming majority” of local executives. The count of 784 only makes up 46 percent — not even half of all 1,715 local chief executives in the country.

The report also noted that Roque said that it is “all but natural” for Año to ask local officials to support the bill because he leads a department that supervises local governments affected by acts of terrorism. However, reporter Pia Ranada stressed Año’s background – a military man who, like the other retired generals in Duterte’s militarized Cabinet, has been pushing for tougher measures in the country’s laws to fight what it claims to be terrorism.

Forced to sign                                    

On June 16, the Inquirer reported allegations that some local executives were forced to sign the manifesto. The report cited Rep. Carlos Zarate (Bayan Muna Partylist) who said, “We have received reports that LGUs are being made to sign a document supporting the new terror bill; otherwise they will be red-tagged or branded as supporting terrorism.”

The Inquirer brought to light evidence from Bayan Muna, including photos of documents that required the mandatory attendance of local officials to meetings organized by police to drum up support for the bill.

One such document was a memorandum from the Cebu Police Provincial Office that encouraged officers to support “the advocacy of our President Rodrigo Roa Duterte.”

The same report quoted DILG USec. Jonathan Malaya who described Bayan Muna’s claim as “baseless and complete (sic) false.”

Cause for alarm

In general, media seemed oblivious to the sinister impact of the police’s leading such a campaign. As a law enforcement agency, it must be wary of exerting any coercive force over civilian officials in the evaluation of policy. PNP’s involvement in the promotion of controversial legislation goes beyond its sphere of responsibility, over-reaching in its public engagement. Put simply, the police involvement in getting signatures to support the anti-terror bill necessarily implies a threat against those who do not sign.