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FEU law professors call for caution in passage of controversial anti-terrorism bill

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FEU law professors call for caution in passage of controversial anti-terrorism bill
Activist groups troop to University of the Philippines Diliman to oppose the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 on June 4, 2020.
Philstar.com / Efigenio Toledo IV

MANILA, Philippines — Faculty of the Far Eastern University on Friday joined the growing voices calling for the junking of the Anti-Terrorism Bill that, as of Friday, is one step from becoming law.

Led by Dean Mel Sta. Maria, professors of the FEU Institute of Law called on the members of the Congress to recall the Anti-Terrorism bill. “There are many provisions of the law that in our study will violate the Constitution,” they said in Filipino.

The law professors in particular cited the authorization of arrests based on mere suspicion, detention of up to 24 days, warrantless arrests, and empowerment of the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) to citizens “without expressed procedure to defend the accusation” among the unconstitutional provisions of the proposed measure.

The Proposed Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 is now up for the signature of President Rodrigo Duterte, who earlier marked the bill as urgent, but refused to do so on Senate Bill 1564 or the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act.

READ: Congress to go on break with stimulus in limbo, anti-terrorism bill prioritized

Rights lawyers have expressed alarm in the proposed legislation that seek to punish acts "which are in no way terrorism." They also warned it could be used against critics and members of the opposition because of the broadness and vagueness of definition of terrorism.

National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers president Edre Olalia, in a separate legal opinion issued, noted that a provision of the law gives ATC, “small group of non-judicial officials, many with police and military backgrounds, the almost absolute power to designate—even if wrongly, mistakenly, or maliciously—groups as terrorist.”

The ATC is headed by the executive secretary, with the national security adviser as vice chairperson. Other members are Cabinet officials, but as Olalia pointed out, Duterte had appointed former police and military officials as heads of departments.

Olalia also pointed out that if signed into law, the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020  would also allow “electronic surveillance and wiretapping of all kinds of any activity or form of speech that may not be really ‘terrorist’ for three months.”

Allow us to take part in crafting the law

Addressing the members of the Congress, the FEU law professors called for caution in passing the bill into law. They added that they only want to take part in crafting the law that will affect the rights and freedom of the country.

“Give our countrymen the opportunity to scrutinize, comment and give recommendations to every provision of the proposed bill,” they also said.

Rights group Karapatan slammed the passage of the Anti-Terror Bill, which its Secretary General Cristina Palabay, said is a "blatant travesty of democratic checks and balances."

“With Duterte controlling all branches of government, a rubber stamp Congress with not a single ounce of legislative independence is already a clear and glaring sign of dictatorship,” Palabay earlier said. — Kristine Joy Patag

ANTI-TERROR BILL HUMAN RIGHTS NATIONAL UNION OF PEOPLES LAWYERS
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