After US lawmakers called for a repeal of the Philippine’s controversial Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 over concerns of human rights abuses, the country’s Department of Foreign Affairs told members of the US congress of the government’s commitment to civil liberties and human rights.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte earlier this month signed a stricter anti-terrorism bill, condemned by critics and rights groups as a weapon to target opponents and stifle free speech.
The law took effect on July 18 despite the absence of implementing rules and regulations (IRR), but Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said compliance with publication requirements was enough to set the law into motion.
“The Philippines remains committed to the protection of civil and political liberties as well as human rights,” its embassy in Washington said in a letter to 50 US representatives dated July 16 and made available to the media on Saturday.
“The Anti-Terrorism Act itself strongly mandates that human rights be absolute and protected at all times,” it added.
Duterte has defended the law, saying law-abiding citizens should not fear as it targets terrorists including communist insurgents.
The legislation creates a council appointed by the president, which can designate individuals and groups as terrorists and detain them without charge for up to 24 days. It also allows for surveillance and wiretaps, and punishments that include life imprisonment without parole.
Lawyers have questioned the law before the Supreme Court, saying the legislation could be abused to target administration opponents and suppress peaceful dissent.
“What the law signifies is the Philippine government’s strong resolve to combat terrorism and to implement a more effective and comprehensive approach to such a serious threat that knows no borders,” the embassy said, adding that the previous anti-terror bill, signed in 2007, resulted in the conviction of only one person.
The supporters of the legislation further argued that the law would help armed defence personnel control terrorist activity and will enable them to target individuals who indulge in such activities.
Experts suggest that the law would help the country control radical Islamic terrorism that has seen an exponential rise in the past decade and was behind the 2017 capture of a southern city which was followed by a series of suicide bombings in the Philippines. (Source: CNA)