The Anti-Terrorism Law is a done deal. The bill was submitted to President Duterte yesterday (June 9). The President doesn’t even need to sign it to make it a law. He needs only to wait for 30 days and the bill lapses into law, says his spokesman Harry Roque, a human rights lawyer in his other life.

As drafted, the Anti-Terrorism Bill is no worse than what the rest of ASEAN countries have. The bill allows for 24 days of detention of terrorist suspects, although with repeated extensions, detention could be longer than that.

According to a primer given me by Senate President Tito Sotto, Bangladesh allows for 15 days detention, Indonesia 21 days extendable to 120 additional days, Pakistan 30 days, Malaysia 59 days extendable to two years, and Singapore 730 days to indefinite.

Yes, you can be arrested without warrant.  But that is already provided for by Rule 113 of the Rules of  Court and strictly constricted by a Supreme Court ruling.  You cannot be arrested on mere suspicion, also under the same Rule 113. 

You can be wiretapped, for not more than 60 days and extendable by another 30 days, but that should be authorized by the Court of Appeals and the evidence obtained therein cannot be used against you, in court.  But you can be assassinated, of course, as what happened to Osama bin Laden.   In any case, unauthorized wiretapping is subject to 10 years imprisonment.

I vibered my colleagues in the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) to lessen focus on the Anti-Terrorism Bill opposing it vigorously. I said there is nothing much one or nations can do with terrorists who injure, maim, or kill people and killing themselves in the process because they believe doing so will make them meet their Creator. How many Catholics believe killing oneself is the fastest way to meet one’s God? Yet, elementary school catechism teaches you that man’s ultimate goal in life is meeting the Lord face to face.

I also suggested to MAP to stop focusing on solving the national capital’s traffic problem.  It cannot be solved, no matter what government or the private sector does, unless the mass transport infra is there – subways and railways that can extend from Manila to Laoag in the north and from Manila to Legaspi in the south.  Absent that is what makes one exclaim it’s more fun in the Philippines. In Japan, you can take a fast train from Tokyo to Osaka, a distance of 400 kms in two hours and 30 minutes; sometimes even less.  One of my employees takes four hours to commute, one way, daily from Cavite to Manila, a distance of 20 kms.

What everybody should focus on is the looming economic crisis which will be the worst in our country’s history.  Mass unemployment, mass hunger, mass poverty and colossal incompetence make for a combustible mix.  The crisis will be the greatest terror of all.  And not even a 100 Anti-Terrorism Laws can solve it.

Yet, the solution to this greatest terror is only two-fold: Mass food production and massive job creation. 

Every vacant lot in this country should be converted into a farm – to grow rice, veg- etables, and fruits. Loans for food production should be interest free. Instead of building barangay roads and other infra, government should buy farm implement and machinery and gave the tools away free to the farmers.   

Our cost of producing palay is double that of Thailand or Vietnam.  But the pandemic has proved that there is nothing like producing one’s food because the destruction of globalization has also destroyed the global food supply chain.  We don’t have enough rice.  We are deficit in protein.  We have one of the world’s richest fishing grounds.  Yet, we import sardines and meat.

As for employment, construction could do the trick.  Construction is one business where minimum wage and labor laws do not apply as a habit.  Because many construction workers are on contract or per project basis.

At least 15 other industries are tied to construction – cement, steel, GI sheets, gravel and sand, raw wood, furniture, electrical, plumbing and sewerage, appliances, internet and wifi, television and radio, interior design, architecture, engineering, trucking, logistics, to name some.

The Philippines has among the world’s strictest labor laws designed by the late Blas Ople, who was a socialist. I worked in Hong Kong briefly for a foreign magazine.  There, you walk into your boss’s room at 9 a.m. and by 9:10 a.m., you are fired.  You bring out your personal belongings in a small cartoon box.  Here in Manila, you fire a lowly clerk, you have to get permission from the Department of Labor. 

Labor in Manila is very expensive, the highest cost in ASEAN after Singapore.  It is the same labor that enjoys the most number of paid holidays in the world—from 32 to 38 days a year.  San Juan City alone celebrates the feast of Saint John twice a year. We have 16 days of Christmas. In Japan, the Japanese work on Christmas Day.  Our Holy Week is really a week.  At the Vatican, you can party, or rather work, on Good Friday. 

The government grossly underestimates the massive unemployment triggered by the pandemic—just 7.6 million or 17.7% of the labor force of 43 million.  My estimate is at least 32 million jobless, half of the population of Filipinos who are 15 to 60 years old —66 million. When one is 15 or above, one is considered part of the labor force because one is capable enough to work. But the government has this fancy term called labor force participation rate and thus reckons only 43 million who are part of the labor force.  

Also the definition of an employed person is very iffy— if you worked one hour during the past week. You are employed. You know, if you worked for just one hour in one week, you are actually jobless.  You cannot even buy a piece of chicken with an hour of wage from the past week.  And it cannot bring you home from work.

— Tony Lopez