Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel “Babe” Romualdez told American lawmakers that the country’s new anti-terror law, which took effect Saturday, July 18, clearly defines terrorism and provides safeguards against abuse.
“The Anti-Terrorism Act itself strongly mandates that human rights shall be absolute and protected at all times,” Romualdez, in a letter dated July 16, told 50 US lawmakers who recently asked for the repeal of the law amid concerns it may endanger the human rights situation in the country.
The lawmakers earlier wrote Romualdez regarding their position.
Romualdez said the anti-terror law clearly defines terrorism as violent acts and violent purpose, and that it excludes legitimate exercises of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
Romualdez assured there are safeguards in place to prevent abuses and said the Philippines remains committed to the protection of civil and political liberties, as well as human rights.
Romualdez noted that the Philippines ranks high in the global terrorism index, and that the Human Security Act of 2007, which the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 replaced, was ineffective in addressing terrorism threats in the country.
“The Anti-Terrorism Act aims to plug the loopholes in the Human Security Act by putting in place a more effective legal framework that would enable a criminal justice response to terrorist acts beyond that allowed for by the Revised Penal Code,” the envoy said.
“I appreciate the opportunity to openly communicate with esteemed members of the U.S. Congress on matters of sovereign importance to the Philippines, particularly inasmuch as these may have a bearing on the deep and long-standing alliance between our two countries,” he said.
The fight against terrorism, Romualdez said, “is one standing and defining area of our defense and security cooperation.”
Aside from US lawmakers, various groups opposed to the anti-terror law also include Filipino-American activists, international human rights organizations.
In the Philippines, nine individuals and groups have separately filed petitions against the measure at the Supreme Court.
President Rodrigo Duterte signed the law on July 3 amid concerns raised by various sectors on certain provisions of the law, including its definition of terrorism.
Under the measure, security forces can wiretap suspected terrorists, and detain them for up to 24 days without charge./Stacy Ang