Thursday, July 30, 2020

With a new Anti-Terror Act: Philippines take another step towards authoritarianism

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President Duterte addressing the 18th Congress | Source: Oliver Marquez via Philippine News Agency

On July 3, 2020, President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte signed a new Anti-Terrorism Bill, which was rushed through the houses of Congress without appropriate discussion, and has amassed protests and disapproval within the nation and abroad since its draft was first announced.

The Confederation of Lawyers in Asia and Pacific (COLAP) has raised concerns that anti-terrorism bill of the Philippine government is “violative of human rights and the due process of the law.” It's statement opposing the the bill stated following concerns with the bill:

  1. It punishes suspected individuals for organizations who are proscribed as terrorists and that the very broad and vague definition of terrorism under the bill poses danger to the basic freedoms of the people.
  2. The suspect’s right to due process of law is virtually denied and the presumption of innocence until proven guilty by a court is virtually negated.
  3. It enable the President-backed Anti-Terrorism Council to label any individual or group as a terrorist “without the opportunity of being heard.
  4. Any member or sympathizer of a proscribed organization is punished as a terrorist even if he or she does not actually take arms against the government.
  5. The bill encroaches on one’s privacy as it gives the government access to personal and bank information and freezes bank accounts and assets.
  6. The bill violates the sovereign rights of states and the internationally mandated norm that criminal jurisdiction is confined to the territories of a state, citing its extraterritorial nature.

Hundreds of protestors took to the streets of Manila protesting the bill on 27th July when President Duterte gave his annual State of the Nation address. While it is true that the has nation faced the threat of terrorism in recent years, it is also agreed upon that Duterte’s response has been perhaps equally brutal.

This bill was also criticised by the Christian religious organisations which issued a joint declaration on this law. They stated “We are bothered by the broad and vague definition of terrorism and terrorist. It can include acts of dissent, free speech, right to assemble, right to organize, freedom of belief, among others. By such a broad definition it is open to abuse and misuse.”

An opposition Congress member, Edcel Lagman and two lawyer groups of Philippine approached the Philippine Supreme Court and asked it to strike down the new anti-terrorism law, or parts of it, as they called it unconstitutional for infringing on civil liberties.

The Philipino American Student Association (FASA) also denounced the new anti-terrorism law in its Instagram post which stated, “FASA sa UW denounces Duterte’s signing of the Anti-Terrorism Bill to which its terms do nothing to resolve the true terrorism in our nation and instead conducts an outright assault on the freedom of speech from our people living on the motherland and even Filipinx abroad,”

International Human Right organisation, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Regional Director, Nicholas Bequelin, in response to this law said, “Under Duterte’s presidency, even the mildest government critics can be labelled terrorists. He further stated, “This law’s introduction is the latest example of the country’s ever-worsening human rights record. Once again, this shows why the UN should launch a formal investigation into ongoing widespread and systematic violations in the country.”

Prior to this, Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’ received global scrutiny, especially for the numerous extrajudicial killings that have occurred since he came to power and the effect of this aggressive policy on the poorest citizens of the nation.

Apart from this, he has also repeatedly voiced opinions in favour of martial law and silenced news media that spoke against him. But he seems to be encouraged largely by his own people, among whom Duterte continues to be popular.

Many have called Duterte the ‘revival’ of authoritarianism in the small Southeast Asian country, which has only recently seen some semblance of democracy after years of dictatorship under Ferdinand Marcos (of whom Duterte was a close family friend).

The Philippines is walking a thin line between fascism and democracy, and which side it ends up on depends not only on the actions of its government, but just as much on the actions of its people.

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October 23, 2020 3:57 PM

Male gaze, their female guardians and sports-wear

In Helen Cixous’ essay, ‘The Laugh of Medusa’, she urges women to redefine what their body means to them, not just physically but also socially, emotionally and politically. This could happen by re-writing about your body in a way you deem  fit, the expression you identify with and separating it from how your body has been written about by men. The expression could be how you view your body separate from the patriarchal lense.

It is no secret that a woman’s body is subject to critique. While clothing for men is just a tool to cover themselves as per the surrounding environment, clothing for women isa social and political narrative that dictates their life or as we affectionately call it ‘culturally appropriate’.

The clothing style could vary. It could be a woman covered head to toe in a Burqa, it could be a woman who decides to wear sports-wear in a park or it could be jeans and a top. Everything is critically evaluated by men and by women who work towards protecting the male gaze.

The male gaze is a heterosexual way of looking at female bodies that sexualises these bodies into an object. It is a gaze that runs on the self-affirmative notion that the bodies of women, and what they do with it, is directly linked to how they  appear in front of a man.

In a recent incident in Bangalore, India, popular Indian actress Samyuktha Hegde was abused and threatened by senior political leader of the congress party, Kavitha Reddy,  for wearing sports-wear, in Bangalore’s Agara Lake park. She was exercising with her friend.

Kavitha Reddy initially claimed she was in indecent attire and went onto morally police and then later abused the actress and her friend.  A supposedly progressive political leader gets uncomfortable by what women are wearing. It breaks into an argument and a fight where the politician is supported by five to six men. Later on, the police appear to be appeasing the politician instead of the women who were harassed. Although she did apologise, her apology came after her video went viral, and as a protection for her own political reputation.

To look at Samyuktha Hegde’s clothing as a threat is to view her clothing as an act of obscenity therefore bullying her identity and sense of agency and reducing her to sexual object, who, by putting her in public, apparently gives the men present a right to look at her? Nevermind that she was there to workout like everyone else, her actions were confused as to how men look at her. In the video posted by the actress, the politician is surrounded by men who are championing her on. The politician choses to side with the patriarchal figures in shaming these women. Asking to protect from the male gaze is a far stretch but punishing women for the male gaze is where we should draw a line.

What roles does Kavitha Reddy play? She is the guardian of the male gaze. We find her in our mothers, in our grandmothers, in aunties and sometimes our friends. She understands a woman’s body as an object that is there to be looked at by men. She gets angry at women for wearing certain kinds of clothing but she is not angry at men for looking. The agency in this case always belongs to men.

When Cixous asks women to re-define their identity, she urges us to strangle the moral police that comes alive in such instances. It is the moral police that shames women for wearing clothes that don’t flatter their bodies or clothes that do flatter them. She urges us to reflect upon the source of such vigilance. Do we shame other women because we believe in what we are saying or our identity is partially (or  wholly) shaped by the male gaze?

Whether we chose to wear a burqa, or a dress, or variations of the new type clothing produced everyday, the crux of the matter is that it should not worry anyone apart from the one wearing it. The identity of a woman, sexual or otherwise, has to be redefined to be separated from the men and their gaze. We have to draw a line otherwise people in power will continue to abuse their power and preserve patriarchy and male gaze.

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