In this March 16, 2018 photo, militant group Anakpawis holds a protest in front of the Department of Justice.
The STAR/Miguel de Guzman, File
Asian rights network sounds alarm on anti-terror bill
Ratziel San Juan (Philstar.com) - June 3, 2020 - 4:38pm

MANILA, Philippines — A network of 81 human rights organizations based in 21 Asian countries have collectively denounced the railroading of anti-terrorism legislation in the Philippines which they said would solidify the government's abuse of power and further erode human rights in the country.

The proposed “Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020” (House Bill 6875) was approved on second reading in the House of Representatives on Tuesday despite overwhelming public backlash.

It is expected to be passed into law before Congress adjourns Friday since President Rodrigo Duterte certified it as urgent.

The similar Senate version was already approved back in February notwithstanding criticism from local and international rights groups over provisions said to loosely define terrorism and authorize the widescale violation of human rights in the Philippines.

RELATED: ‘Anti-terror’ bill defines terrorism vaguely but has clear and specific dangers

“We have seen the systematic intimidation of civil society, from human rights organizations to journalists and the general public under the Duterte regime. The Anti-Terrorism Bill would institutionalize and facilitate an abuse of power, leading the weaponization of the law against its people,” the Asian Forum of Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) said in a joint statement with its member organizations in the Philippines.

The network cited how the proposed law is open to abuse given the Philippine government's history of branding human rights defenders as terrorists, including United Nations Special Rapporteur Victoria Tauli-Corpuz.

FORUM-ASIA’s members Karapatan, PAHRA and TFDP have also been labelled as terrorists for speaking out against human rights violations in the country. These accusations threaten their security and compromise the ability to conduct their work.

“The administration has used existing legislation, including on cyber-libel and sedition to target critics, while pushing for new laws that dismantle Constitutional guarantees, and stifle dissent. The recently introduced Bayanihan to Heal as One Act included a ‘fake news’ provision which has been used to arrest individuals posting online criticism of the government’s response to the pandemic.”

FORUM-ASIA also said that the government's priorities are misplaced given the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis, challenging the admin-led Congress to follow their constituents’ demands.

“Fast-tracking the Anti-Terrorism Bill at a time when the country is grappling with the effects of a public health emergency demonstrates a complete disregard for any trust the public has placed in its Government. Members of the Philippine Congress should take a strong stand against this bill and demonstrate that they are capable of upholding democracy and not just the wishes of their President.”

An administration-recognized super majority stands in the House with about 290 members. It is helmed by Speaker Cayetano who was the president’s running mate in the 2016 elections and Cabinet appointee prior to speakership.

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