UN rights panel tells Philippines to amend Anti-Terrorism Act

Xave Gregorio - Philstar.com
UN rights panel tells Philippines to amend Anti-Terrorism Act
Activist groups troop to University of the Philippines Diliman to oppose the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.
Philstar.com / Efigenio Christopher Toledo

MANILA, Philippines — The UN Human Rights Committee is asking the Philippines to amend portions of the controversial Anti-Terrorism Act to comply with an international treaty on civil and political rights.

In a recent 13-page unedited report, the panel of human rights experts said the country should review and amend the law “with a view to bringing it into full compliance with the covenant and the principles of legal certainty, predictability and proportionality.”

The covenant being referred to is the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the Philippines is a party.

“In doing so, it should ensure participatory consultations process with relevant stakeholders, including the Commission on Human Rights and civil society organizations,” the body said.

In particular, the panel said the Philippines should amend Sections 25 and 29 of the Anti-Terrorism Act which respectively provide grounds for the designation of people or groups as terrorists and allow for warrantless detentions.

The Anti-Terrorism Act, which is also sometimes called the anti-terror law, had passed the scrutiny of the Supreme Court which kept most of its provisions intact, save for parts of Section 4 and a method of designation provided for under Section 25.

The SC in a 12-3 vote nullified a proviso on protests and other mass actions that cannot be considered terrorism "for being overbroad and violative of freedom of expression."

In a separate 9-6 vote, the SC struck down a provision that allowed the Anti-Terrorism Council to adopt requests for designation by other jurisdictions or supranational jurisdictions for being unconstitutional.

Still, the UN body flagged certain provisions of the law which the SC kept. Among these are the “overbroad and vague definitions of terrorism,” warrantless arrests and detention for up to 24 days without charge, and the “excessive powers” granted to the Anti-Terrorism Council for surveillance and gathering of personal data.

It also said it is concerned over the use of the law to “legitimize the targeting of government critics, human rights defenders and journalists, including through ‘red-tagging,’ and consequent chilling effects on freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association.”

The body also expressed concern with the threats and attacks against members of the judiciary, lawyers, human rights defenders and journalists.

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