Pres. Duterte signs controversial Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020

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Despite a lot of  opposition, President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday night  signed the controversial anti-terror bill into law.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque confirmed this in a text message to reporters also on Friday.

In a separate statement, Roque said the enactment of the measure, now known as the Republic Act No. 11479 or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, shows the Duterte administration’s commitment to eradicate terrorism.

“Terrorism, as we often said, strikes anytime and anywhere. It is a crime against the people and humanity; thus, the fight against terrorism requires a comprehensive approach to contain terrorist threats,” Roque said.

“The signing of the aforesaid law demonstrates our serious commitment to stamp out terrorism, which has long plagued the country and has caused unimaginable grief and horror to many of our people.”

The new law seeks to strengthen the Human Security Act of 2007 and criminalizes incitement of terrorism “by means of speeches, proclamations, writings, emblems, banners or other representations.”

The law also allows the detention of suspects for up to 24 days without charge and empowers an anti-terrorism council to designate suspects or groups as suspected terrorists who could be subjected to arrests and surveillance.

Duterte’s top military and security officials have cited the continuing threat of terror groups in the country such as the Abu Sayyaf as the main reason for the need for the law.

However, lawyers groups, human rights advocates,  and even some lawmakers have opposed the bill which they feared could be used as a potential state weapon against dissent.

The Philippine Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, which amends the 2007 Human Security Act, expands the definition of terrorism, which human rights advocates say could lead to abuses and stifle free speech. It also permits the surveillance, warrantless arrest and detention of suspects for up to 24 days, according to the draft law.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said Duterte’s move has “pushed Philippine democracy into an abyss.”

“The Anti-Terrorism Law will give a green light to the systematic targeting of political critics and opponents, as well as ordinary Filipinos who dare to speak out,” he said.

Risa Hontiveros, an opposition senator, hit out at Duterte for approving the law, even as the country grapples with a health crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. She said the law will provide the government with “fearsome legal tools to oppress and silence those who speak out and resist the injustices, the violence and the corruption of those in power.”

“They are afraid of the growing discontent of the people with the government’s incompetence and abuses during the global pandemic,” Hontiveros said.

Lawyer and activist Edre Olalia said: “It isn’t over yet. We will not cease to exhaust any and all legitimate steps and platforms to challenge this draconian law.”

Ahead of the signing, local business groups, civil society organizations and representatives from academia and the church, called on the president to veto the bill. In a joint statement on Thursday, they said “more thorough discussion is needed to get broad support for a law as important as this, and to strengthen the unity the country needs to fight the bigger health and economic crisis we are all facing.”

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on June 30 urged Duterte to refrain from signing the law. “The law could have a further chilling effect on human rights and humanitarian work, hindering support to vulnerable and marginalized communities,” Bachelet said.

The Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 will take effect 15 days after its publication in the Official Gazette or in at least 2 newspapers of general circulation./Stacy Ang

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