07/06/2020 Philippines (International Christian Concern) – On July 3, President Rodrigo Duterte signed the controversial anti-terrorism bill into law, which many fear would pave the way for rights abuses including torture and crackdowns on peaceful dissent.
While local and international human rights groups acknowledge that there exist security threats to the country, their concern is that this overly broad anti-terrorism bill could be abused to target political opponents, with an anti-terrorism council appointed by Duterte able to dictate who is considered a “terrorist.”
The security forces will also be equipped with sweeping powers to go after targets, some without judicial approval, and allows for 90 days of surveillance and wiretaps as well as the arrest and detention of suspects without warrant or charge for up to 24 days.
Their worries are echoed by the lawmakers in the country. Today, Philippine lawyer groups and a top congressman asked the Supreme Court to strike down the new anti-terrorism law, or parts of it, calling it unconstitutional for infringing on civil liberties.
According to Radio Free Asia, on Tuesday, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet urged Duterte to refrain from signing the law.
“The recent passage of the new Anti-Terrorism Act heightens our concerns about the blurring of important distinctions between criticism, criminality and terrorism,” she said, adding that the law could have a chilling effect on human rights and humanitarian work, hindering support to vulnerable communities. Her call was however ignored.
Philippines has seen a rise of radicalism in recent years, with IS-linked Abu Sayyaf group and other Muslim extremists in the south actively looking for opportunities to terrorize the country. As recent as January 27, 2019, two bombs carried by IS sympathizers exploded at a Cathedral in Jolo, killing 23. While President Duterte claims that the law will only be used to boost the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), it remains to be seen the possible effects this law might have on human rights defenders.
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