April 19, 2022

The government says it needs a law to fight the riots and protects freedoms. The Philippine State Department even sent a letter to members of the U.S. Congress to allay concerns about the law, stating, “The Philippines remains committed to protecting civil and political liberties and human rights.” Known as the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, the law allows suspects to be detained for up to 24 days without charge and empowers a government counterterrorism council to designate suspects or groups as suspected terrorists who could then be arrested and monitored. It replaces a 2007 anti-terrorism law called the Human Security Act, which was rarely enforced, largely because law enforcement feared a provision that imposed a fine of 500,000 pesos ($10,000) for each day they wrongly arrested a terrorist suspect. Fearing “deadly consequences,” human rights groups in the Philippines expressed dismay after the Supreme Court upheld most of the provisions of the anti-terrorism law that they say undermine the country`s democracy by threatening human rights. Nine judges also ruled that it was unconstitutional for the Counter-Terrorism Council to designate individuals and groups as terrorists on the basis of requests from other countries or international organizations. Various human rights groups said they would continue to challenge the bill even after the court`s decision, saying bills to amend the laws would be resubmitted to the next Congress after the elections. “Because the law is arbitrary, then the law is so vague and too broad. That is exactly why this law is now dangerous. We can only expect worse attacks on human rights activists,” Palabay added. The human rights organization Amnesty International said the law “remains deeply flawed and susceptible to misuse by government agencies” and reiterated its call on the Philippine government to ensure that the law complies with international human rights laws and standards. However, the new law provides for a possible sentence of life imprisonment without parole, which lawyers say leaves no chance of rehabilitation.

The law also allows for wiretapping and prolonged surveillance, which human rights activists say raises privacy concerns. Activists are particularly concerned about the establishment, under the law, of a president-appointed counterterrorism council, which has been vested with extensive powers. Duterte`s human rights record intensifies opposition to the law The Duterte government`s poor human rights record has heightened fears about the new anti-terrorism law. The government says it needs the anti-terrorism law to fight the uprisings. The Philippine Supreme Court this week broadly upheld an anti-terrorism law that has led to furious challenges, in a decision that could have far-reaching implications for the Southeast Asian country. But the court struck down a measure that represented a partial victory for petitioners who feared their general definition of terrorism. Twelve of the 15 judges voted to remove a line stipulating that public protests, dissent, work stoppages and other exercises of political rights are not considered acts of terrorism as long as they are “not intended to cause death or serious physical injury. or to create a serious risk to public safety. They said the eligibility requirements were “too broad and violate freedom of expression.” It also declared unconstitutional a provision allowing a president-appointed counterterrorism council to accept requests from other entities, including international organizations, to classify individuals and groups as terrorists. The court`s decision, of which only parts have been published, was widely welcomed by government officials.

But left-wing activists and liberals have expressed concern, with one group of left-wing lawmakers calling the decision a “devastating blow to human rights” and another promising to protest against it on International Human Rights Day on Friday. “Until this happens, the law will continue to pose a threat to human rights defenders and activists. and others who have been wrongly accused of terrorism by giving the government excessive and unchecked powers,” said Butch Olano, Philippine director of the London-based group. “It chills freedom of expression. This cools down freedom of expression. This cools the freedom of the press. It chills freedom of association,” said Neri Colmenares, a prominent human rights lawyer who is appealing to the Supreme Court. Hermogenes Esperon, national security adviser and vice chairman of the Counterterrorism Council, said the government would respect any decision of the court. “Especially in the context of Covid, where the role of humanitarian organizations vis-à-vis underserved communities has never been more important than today, any action that hinders the work of humanitarian organizations is truly irresponsible,” said Professor Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the fight against terrorism. This law was passed as part of ongoing violations by defense lawyers in the country, with recent cases of judicial harassment of defense lawyers and defense lawyers targeted by smear campaigns. This is the latest example of the deterioration of the country`s human rights record, and although steps have been taken at the United Nations to remedy the situation, the recent report of the United Nations High Commissioner highlights widespread and systematic killings and arbitrary detentions linked to the war on drugs, silencing independent media and critics. and gross and persistent impunity.

“The Supreme Court has missed the opportunity to uphold the human rights and democracy of the Filipino people,” he said. An anti-terrorism law that gives sweeping powers to President Rodrigo Duterte`s administration faces growing legal challenges as human rights groups warn that the legislation marks a dark new chapter for the Philippines. But Palabay, of the human rights group Karapatan, warned that next May`s elections would be a test of the controversial law if voters and candidates criticized the Duterte government. Filipino human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists and clerics have been imprisoned, harassed and worse over the past five and a half years under the leadership of President Rodrigo Duterte. Human rights activists fear that the legislation could result in increased repression. “The passage of this law gives the government excessive and unchecked powers. Legislation to “combat terrorism” must ensure respect for international human rights and international humanitarian law and protect fundamental freedoms. However, Ní Aoláin said the term terrorism is an “inherently suspicious category” and that the government is deliberately using counterterrorism cover to suppress rights. Among those questioning the anti-terrorism law are Christian Monsod and Felicitas Arroyo, who were part of a commission that drafted the 1987 constitution.

Several other groups are expected to file petitions. “The removal of these unconstitutional provisions is a victory for human rights and civil liberties,” a group of law professors at the Far Eastern University`s Institute of Law said in a statement. “We are concerned that this decision, which upholds the vast majority, the draconian provisions of the law and the character of the law, will lead to more human rights violations and more violations [against] the exercise of civil liberties,” Palabay told VOA after the verdict. However, human rights groups warn that the Duterte government could use the legislation to prosecute political opponents. The Philippine Catholic Church has gone so far as to compare the legislation to China`s new national security law imposed on Hong Kong. “The introduction of this law is the latest example of the country`s deteriorating human rights record. This shows once again why the United Nations should open a formal investigation into the widespread and systematic violations taking place in the country. “Terrorism is not defeated by terrorizing people and stifling their rights. The answer to non-State terrorism is not State terrorism.

Under the law, an anti-terrorism council appointed by the president will have the power to designate individuals and groups as terrorists and detain them for up to 24 days without charge. The law also allows for 90 days of supervision and wiretapping, as well as penalties that include life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. For the human rights group In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement, the verdict has “deadly consequences” for legitimate activists who continue to defend human rights. The anti-terrorism law, passed earlier this month, completes the Duterte government`s arsenal of tools, giving it the ability to label, stop and eliminate government criticism with a vague definition of “terrorism.” In the current climate of impunity and attacks on human rights defenders, this law, which gives the government excessive and unchecked powers, will only further endanger the safety of defenders. “While advocacy continues at the national level for the adoption of a specific law to protect human rights defenders, they are now even more vulnerable with the passage of this law,” said Tess McEvoy, Programme Manager and Legal Advisor at ISHR. .

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