Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte signed the controversial anti-terrorism law on Friday, July 03, despite strong opposition from diverse groups and individuals.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque confirmed that the signing of the the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 had been hours after Mr. Duterte would take into consideration the autonomous Bangsamoro government’s stand against the measure.
Former members of a Moro separatist movement who were against the bill, warned it would violate civil and political rights and the Philippine Constitution itself.
“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,” his spokesperson Harry Roque said.
Roque said Mr. Duterte and his legal team “took time to study this piece of legislation weighing the concerns of different stakeholders.”
The law, which will repeal the Human Security Act of 2007, allows the detention of suspected terrorists for up to 24 days without charges. It also criminalises incitement of terrorism through speeches, proclamations, writings, emblems, banners, or other representations.
It gives an Anti-Terrorism Council composed of Cabinet members the authority to designate individuals or groups as suspected terrorists and order their surveillance and arrest without warrants. Convicted terrorists will be imprisoned for life without parole.
Senator Panfilo Lacson, the principal sponsor of the bill and its chief defender, gave “much credit” to Mr. Duterte and “his strong political will” in signing it into law.
“I cannot imagine this measure being signed under another administration. If only for this, I take my hat off to the President,” he said in a Viber message.
Lacson, a former national police chief, said he would “exert extra effort in guarding against possible abuse in its implementation” despite the safeguards it already contained.
Since the House of Representatives approved the anti-terrorism bill in May, lawyers’ groups, human rights advocates and other sectors had been expressing strong opposition to the measure, claiming it can be used to stifle dissent and violate human rights.
Large business groups, labour unions, academic and religious communities were among more than 250 organisations that had started an online petition calling on the President to veto the anti-terrorism bill.
More than 2,400 individuals have also signed the petition to reject the bill at Change.org.
On Thursday night, the Makati Business Club sent reporters a statement by private citizens and organisations, which it supported, appealing to Mr. Duterte to veto the measure.
“We are one with its proponents that we need the proper legal provisions to fight this scourge,” it said.
“However, 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,” it added.
Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific regional director, Nicholas Bequelin, said the Duterte administration “has effectively crafted a new weapon to brand and hound any perceived enemies of the state.”
“In the prevailing climate of impunity, a law so vague on the definition of ‘terrorism’ can only worsen attacks against human rights defenders,” Bequelin said.
“The approval of this law grants the government excessive and unchecked powers,” he said. “This law’s introduction is the latest example of the country’s ever-worsening human rights record.”
Edre Olalia, president of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, said his group “will not cease to exhaust any and all legitimate steps and platforms to challenge this draconian law.”
“In time, we will look back to this day of infamy and say the unbridled and terrorizing power of the government will always bend and retreat eventually when the people push back hard enough,” he said.
The human rights lawyers’ group said it would challenge the law’s constitutionality in the Supreme Court. (Source: INQUIRER.net)