Why you should speak up about the Anti-Terrorism Bill

There are many lawyers who have already written articles about why they think the Anti-Terrorism Bill is problematic: here, here, and here. But there are also other lawyers and people trying-to-sound-like lawyers who have (quite condescendingly) argued in favour of the Anti-Terrorism Bill.

Peace sign in protest

A few lawyers have said that since the law hasn’t been passed yet, there’s no need for all these negative comments and uproar, and that the people should just let the courts decide if it’s unconstitutional. I understand the basis of this line of argumentation. There’s no justiciable issue – nothing has happened yet so there’s no reason to complain. Congress should be free to enact laws as they see fit.

As a lawyer myself, I have a few thoughts about this–

This is a lawyer’s argument that belongs in the courtroom. It sounds reasonable, and if someone were to challenge the Bill in court, they would fail. But we are not in the courtroom today. Arguing that people shouldn’t speak up because the law hasn’t been passed yet and the legislature should be free to enact laws is entirely at odds with the whole concept of democracy.

The people are exercising their democratic right to call out and hold government officials to account because they feel that this law is not in the country’s best interest.

Let’s start with the basics.

As a republican government, Philippine Congressmen and Senators represent the people. What does this mean?

Imagine a small community of about 10 people. They decide what rules they want to follow that will govern their community. For instance, they can decide that if Person A hurts Person B, Person A should give Person B a pig. They meet in one place, talk about this rule, and vote. Once the rule passes, the whole community will agree to follow that rule.

Now, imagine a country of 106.7 Million people. Each person voting on every rule that will govern the country would be tedious and impractical. Instead, during elections, each person votes a legislator into the Congress or Senate to represent them in creating laws. During this law-making process, a legislator casts his/her vote on behalf of the people they represent – their constituents.

Why is that important? It is the people who had given legislators the power to make laws that will represent their beliefs, values, and interests. Congressmen and Senators were voted into office to serve them. If the laws don’t represent the people’s beliefs, values, and interests, they have every right to speak up and hold government officials accountable.

We will not be silenced sign in protest

Think of it this way – wouldn’t you call out your very trusted employee (to whom you had given so much power and responsibility) if you saw him about to send an e-mail selling trade secrets to your competitor? Or would you wait for the e-mail to have been sent, damage to have been done, before getting angry at him?

Similarly, the people trust that the legislators will make good judgments about how society should run, develop, and hopefully prosper. If they are no longer acting in a manner that is in line with the people’s beliefs, values, and interests, the people should voice out their concerns, outrage, opinions, thoughts. It is your democratic duty to do so.

There is a more significant lesson to be learned here – the vote you cast (or not cast) is equivalent to saying “I trust you and your decisions.” Educate yourself and understand who you’re voting for. Do they share the same beliefs, values, and interests as you?

While it’s true that legislators represent so many people who will probably have opposing views, this does not nullify your individual right and responsibility to speak out and let them know that they are not representing your beliefs, values, and interests. Your vote and your voice is worth more than what you may think.

In response, legislators should listen to their constituents. Legislators should hear and understand their concerns, address them respectfully, and engage with them – not just put them down for “not reading the bill in full,” or “not understanding the intent of the law,” etc. Everyone will benefit from a fair and open discussion about the issues that will affect the community.

An extra note to the lawyers:

Saying that we should just let the courts decide whether the law is constitutional or not shifts the burden of law-making to the judiciary. It is Congress’s responsibility to enact laws that are constitutional and will benefit the people. Surely, the Congress cannot just pass laws without studying their constitutionality.