Muslim rebels fear abuse of new terror law

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 July, 2007, 12:00am

Beefed up security act will lead to more killings, say protesters

Muslim secessionists fear anti-terror legislation that went into effect yesterday will be used to crack down on their supporters.

Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief peace negotiator Mohaqher Iqbal said 'we have very big apprehensions' regarding the Human Security Act.

'[The authorities] passed the law in order to use it against anybody, including the MILF, whom they classify as terrorist,' he said.

His comments came after the government shipped another battalion of troops to Basilan on Friday. Fourteen marines were killed in a firefight with rebel forces on Basilan last week and the government has vowed retribution.

Ten of the marines were beheaded.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's government has been involved in peace negotiations with the southern rebels, who are seeking a Muslim homeland, but the discussions have been marred by periodic outbreaks of violence.

Mr Iqbal acknowledged that MILF forces were involved in the Basilan firefight, but denied that they were involved in the beheadings, which 'is not a signature of the MILF'.

He said they had launched an investigation into the beheadings, claiming they occurred after the rebels left the scene of the firefight. It was possible, he said, that the perpetrators did it to avenge the alleged beheading of an imam earlier that day by government soldiers.

Mr Iqbal said he would not hand over the rebels who killed the marines because they were involved in a 'legitimate encounter'.

He insisted that the government troops instigated the clash by violating a ceasefire agreement that stipulates that troops have to co-ordinate with the rebels before any operation.

'They did not do that,' he said. 'Mass movement of troops is another violation, plus they entered into a known [rebel] bailiwick' without co-ordinating this with the rebels.

The new security law makes it easier to have groups or individuals classified as terrorists, with the associated harsh penalties. Powers of investigation are also strengthened in terrorism cases.

Jose Solis, a Christian lawmaker, on Friday demanded that the government break off peace talks with the MILF and classify it as a terrorist group in light of the Basilan atrocities.

Defence Secretary Norberto Gonzales also talked tough after the incident. 'If the marines indeed strayed into rebel territory, is that enough reason to engage in an ambush? We are in a ceasefire period, so this ambush, obviously premeditated, to me is treachery,' he said.

'We do not tolerate those who chop off heads. If [the MILF] want to get out of the peace process, so be it.'

Meanwhile, the Muslim separatists said that while they opposed the new anti-terror law they would not go to court to stop it, as dozens of left-wing militants said they would.

Protests were held across the Philippines yesterday to mark the enactment of the law. The left-wing group Bayan held a march to Mendiola bridge, near the presidential palace.

Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes said they would petition the Supreme Court tomorrow to stop the implementation of the law after participating in today's Supreme Court-sponsored summit on extrajudicial killings.

Mr Reyes described the new law as 'very scary because ... it's an undeclared martial law' that could result in more killings.

Scores of left-wing militants held similar rallies in other parts of the country yesterday.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno said last week there was cause for concern.

'There may be occasions when the enforcement of the law may be abused,' he said.

'It can happen, but it may not happen. It all depends on the law enforcement authorities.

'But I'm not saying any provision is unconstitutional.'

He said those who felt 'imminently threatened' by the law could appeal to the Supreme Court.