In the Neighborhood of ‘Suspects’: a closer look at what could be the New Inquisition

Imagine an ordinary day. You drag yourself dutifully out of bed towards the nearest light rail station, hoping to get to your destination not a minute longer than expected. You force your way into the throng thinking what could be the worst thing that could happen in such a careless day.

And then the brittle scrim that divides your world and the world of the terrorist crashes down in the wink of an eye. An explosion racks your train, one so massive that no one saw it coming. There was a moment of terrifying silence as the smoke clears, just enough for you to see body parts flung all over the place. And then the screams, the weeping and gnashing of teeth.

It’s only right for Filipinos to view terrorist threats with some alarm. Our country never lacked incidents of this nature. As early as 2000, Human Rights Watch has logged more than 40 bombings with thousands either dead or injured.

That these incidents claimed more than its share of human lives (and one is one too many) is proof that terrorist threats are real, and the risk such threats pose against society leaves an indelible scar on the people’s confidence in the ability of government to secure the public.

The attacks were so seamlessly executed that it’s a wonder how terrorists were able to get past strict security in all our entry and exit points. Apparently, they have, and the Rizal Day bombing staged on Dec. 30, 2000 forms an outline of how a terrorist plan could go unnoticed by authorities.

Based on the chronology by GMA News Online, weeks before the said simultaneous attacks in five areas in Metro Manila, Fathur Rahman al-Ghozi, known bomb-maker of the Islamic terrorist group Jema’ah Islamiyah, first purchased 70 kilos of explosives in Cebu to the tune of a quarter of a million pesos.

Earlier, on Dec. 10, the explosives were shipped to Manila via the Super Ferry. Al-Ghozi arrived in Manila in the last week of December.

Even with little time to spare, on Dec. 30, Rizal Day, five explosions rocked Metro Manila just seconds from each other. The five areas were Plaza Ferguson in Malate, a gasoline station along Makati EDSA, a cargo hold at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, a bus plying the EDSA route to Cubao, and a train car at the Blumentritt Station.

The bombings claimed 22 lives while scores of others were injured.

It was to be the beginning of a bombing spree perpetrated by al-Ghozi and the Jema’ah Islamiyah, which required the purchase of 1.2 tons of explosives to be used against the United States and Israeli embassies located in Singapore (

The Rizal Day bombing wasn’t the first. Reports indicate that as far back as 1994, a Philippine Airlines flight suffered severe damage from a bomb which denoted before take-off. In 2005, tagged by media as the Valentine’s Day bombings, allegedly the handiwork of the Abu Sayyaf, killed nine people.

The Davao City Night Market bombing in 2016, which claimed the lives of 14 people and injured roughly 60, stands as the latest incident which led to the President declaring martial law in Mindanao.


Terrorist groups employ different strategies to spread and inflict the most terror. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), a violent Sunni Jihadist group, uses siege tactics to control certain areas of interest to their cause: to establish a caliphate.

There are various interpretations of what a caliphate should be in the mind of a Muslim believer. Fundamental to all the varying concepts is the formation of a just society built under the will of Allah.

The ISIS definition, however, is shaped with the historical power structure once recognized in the known world at the time, where Muslim caliphates from Baghdad to Cairo claim political, geographical and socioeconomic dominance over most of Europe and the Middle East.

No template exists for any justification of the ISIS caliphate save for the lives and decisions of their caliphs and heroes, no matter how tyrannical or cruel they may be.

If we were to believe the stories, the Marawi siege is one such example. Suffice it that the ensuing clash between ISIL and government forces, which claimed 1,000 dead and 30,000 displaced, led to the utter destruction of this once grand Islamic city.


As we set our eyes on this neighborhood of suspected terrorists, we all agree that it is only proper for government to establish laws to curb the rise of terrorist activities. We cannot have terrorists thinking that they can do whatever the hell they want to do in our native soil without consequence.

The Marawi siege, for example, proved more dangerous due to several foreign terrorist elements—from Malaysia, Indonesia to as far away as Yemen and Chechnya—who staged the siege.

But even prior to the siege, the House of Representatives had already drafted the Human Security Act (RA 9372) as early as the 13th Congress. It’s a legal means against all terrorist threats, foreign and domestic.

The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility noticed certain provisions in the 2007 version that raised eyebrows: more than anything, Sec. 7, which dealt with surveillance and interception of communications; Sec 26 on travel restrictions; and Sec 29 on the seizure and sequestration of accounts and assets.

However well-intended, as the Free Legal Assistance group said during a review of the act at the U.P. Law Center, “The HSA is one of the most incoherent, disorganized and a disjoined law our Congress has ever passed (

It saw implementation on July 15, 2008.


No decision to amend or put more teeth to the HSA can be taken lightly as this could prove traumatic to individuals or groups which could be mistakenly (or deliberately) tagged as “terrorists,” albeit they are not.

Dissent, as we all know, is one of the cornerstones of a democracy. With tyrannical ambitions reining in the popular vote under the Duterte administration, it is almost certain that the HSA would be used to clip the wings of opposition.

The dizzying shift to additional provisions, however, was made possible by the filing of House Bill 7141 in 2018 by Rep. Amado T. Espino Jr., or what is called as “An Act Amending Republic Act No. 9372 Entitled ‘An Act to Secure the State and Protect Our People from Terrorism,’ Otherwise Known as the ‘Human Security Act of 2007’” ((

Noticeably flawed and still largely dubious, the filing of yet another bill recently took place in substitution of HB 7141 and HB 5507. This amended bill was introduced in the 17th Congress by Reps. Amado T. Espino, Jr., Gary C. Alejano, Leopoldo N. Bataoil, and John Marvin “Yul Servo” C. Nieto.

This “working draft” could form the final document of what could be the country’s anti-terrorist law under the Duterte administration.


Rep. Neri Colmenares, chairman of the Public Order Committee of the House of Representatives, immediately raised questions on the matter of provisions that reek of “overkill” and possible abuse against dissenting groups and individuals.

In a July 1, presentation, Rep. Colmenares listed down these particular provisions: among which, the definition of ‘terrorism” as any act “to cause serious risk to public health, safety and security,” and “to seriously interfere with, disrupt, critical infrastructure (public service, transport, commercial facilities.”

Colmenares pointed the vagueness of the definition, saying that under such a definition, EDSA People Power 1 or a workers’ strike would fall under “terrorism”. EDSA 1, where more than 2 million Filipinos marched along Epifanio delos Santos Ave. to call for the ouster of dictator Ferdinand Marcos in Feb. 1986, naturally paralyzed the city for the four-day duration of the protest march. Huge rallies, as well as workers’ and transport strikes, also disrupt commercial and transport facilities.

Colmenares points out that such provisions could easily be intended against groups or individuals in the middle of staging, or already in the process of airing their grievances on the streets. The vague provisions, more than anything else, tag them unduly as “terrorists”.


(AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

Also, Section 5 (g) states that “Any person who shall knowingly become a member or manifest [emphasis, mine] his intention to become a member of any Proscribed[emphasis, mine] Organization or a UN Security Council designated terrorist organization shall suffer life imprisonment.”

We are all aware that not all “outlawed” organizations were deemed verboten because of “terrorist” aims despite the label. In recent months since Duterte assumed office, thousands of lumads in Mindanao have been abused, harassed, and violently displaced for the sake of mining interests. Their harassment was the result of these lumads allegedly joining the Communist New People’s Army.

Pres. Duterte himself, speaking to 1,000 lumad leaders earlier this year, said he will bring in investors “such as in the hinterlands of this city and in Andap Valley, Surigao del Sur” ( The influx of investors could trigger another exodus of lumad communities.

Even before Duterte assumed office, many have been calling on the past administration to dismantle paramilitary groups. Al Jazeera reported in 2015, “Surigao del Sur province’s Governor Johnny T. Pimentel had been very vocal and called for the dismantling and disarming of the paramilitary group, calling them a ‘monster the military had created by training and arming them.’ The governor said members of the group were responsible for attacks on tribal communities in the past six years”(

The persecution did not start with the Duterte administration. However, it was practiced with cruel diligence across most, if not all, presidential administrations since Marcos.

While many will not discount the possibility of lumad communities joining rebel groups due to constant intimidation, harassment, and murder purportedly instigated, with the help of government, by huge mining and logging companies, the historical context behind the purported “rebellion” should open our eyes to the grim realities lumad families face every day.

In a paper by Myshel Prasad of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies on Lumad and the NPA, she wrote in 2015, “The struggle for recognition has been a particular challenge for Mindanao’s Lumad, or non-Islamized indigenous tribes, who today represent only 8.9% of the total population of the island. There was no analogue for the comparative unity that Islam afforded the Moro resistance for the Lumad, which consisted of 18 different ethno-linguistic groups and over 30 tribes. Displacement by settlers as well as encroachment by mining, logging, and agribusiness interests, have had a dramatically corrosive effect on the Lumad who did not develop within the Muslim trading networks and whose subsistence has historically been entirely dependent on agriculture, hunting and fishing. Consequently, the Lumads, or Indigenous People (IPs), ‘are among the poorest and the most disadvantaged social group in the country. Illiteracy, unemployment and incidence of poverty are much higher among them than the rest of the population. IP settlements are remote, without access to basic services, and are characterized by a high incidence of morbidity, mortality and malnutrition’ (Quoted from David de Vera, “Mapping Today and the Future: Participatory Mapping and Planning with the Talaandig in Bukidnon, Mindanao, Philippines .” Lecture, Korea-ASEAN Academic Conference on Information Revolution and Cultural Integration in East Asia , Ho Chi Minh, Viet Nam , January 25, 2007).

“Lumad spiritual practice is deeply linked with land tenure in a unique way; according to Manobo practice, ‘one can only claim land when one cultivates it…only spirits are believed to own lands. These are ‘borrowed’ from them in a ritual that asks for permission to use land’ (As quoted from Rodolfo Stavenhagen, “Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous People.” United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. March 5, 2003. Accessed May 8, 2015).

“The loss of land is ‘not just a historical injustice for the Lumad; territory is integral to their identity and the basis of tribal self-governance” (As quoted from Erasga, Dennis S. “Ancestral Domain Claim: The Case of the Indigenous People in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).” Asia-Pacific Social Science Review, 2008, 33-44).

“The conflict between indigenous claimants to ancestral domain and mining companies in particular has led to the murder of indigenous activists and has contributed to a culture of corruption and violence, supporting the massive recruitment of Lumad youth”.

The lumad in Mindanao had suffered abandonment, neglect, rape, and murder for far too long. Poverty no longer displaces them; it is war against the mining firms.

Should this study prove true in all aspects, it is clear that the historical context behind the ongoing persecution of the lumad should not go unheeded just for the sake of controlling the activities of armed rebel groups.


Wire-tapping surveillance and access to internet and call data (Sec. 8), the withholding of assets and resources (Sec. 17), arrest without charges (Sec 18) for 30 days without compensation for wrongful or indefinite detention, repression in schools (Sec. 27), and social media censorship and control (Sec. 28) should all be under further study for fear of abuse.

Meanwhile, hard-won legal safeguards have been removed in the working draft as pointed out by Rep. Colmenares: Sec. 16: Penalty for Unauthorized or Malicious Interceptions and/or Recordings; Sec. 20: Penalty for Failure to Deliver Suspect to the Proper Judicial Authority within Three Days; Sec. 21: Rights of a Person under Custodial Detention; Sec. 22: Penalty for Violation of the Rights of a Detainee; Sec. 23: Requirement for an Official Custodial Logbook and its Contents; Sec. 24: No Torture or Coercion in Investigation and Interrogation; Sec. 25: Penalty for Threat, Intimidation, Coercion, or Torture in the Investigation and Interrogation of a Detained Person; Sec. 27: Judicial Authorization Required to Examine Bank Deposits, Accounts, and Records; Sec. 28: Application to Examine Bank Deposits, Accounts, and Records; Sec. 29: Classification and Contents of the Court Order Authorizing the Examination of Bank Deposits, Accounts, and Records; and a host of others.

The greatest instrument of democracy which we could use to stop and undermine the forces of terrorism is education. Draconian laws can only spark and fuel this continuing culture of violence.

To stop terrorism, not simply the terrorist: it is to this end that an antiterrorism law should be crafted. No amount of legal remedies or show of force would bring about peace in areas of conflict if these same laws can be used to provoke the public into fear and panic.

Historical context and substantive gains in the area of battling terror should not be set aside for the sake of drafting punitive legal means. We cannot risk raising the specter of imminent danger through the establishment of draconian laws without reaping the whirlwind in the end.

We must require more justice if we desire more peace. There is no need for a New Inquisition. G




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