A railroad Congress
(The Freeman) - May 24, 2019 - 12:00am

As the 17th Congress resumes sessions today, May 20, until June 7, 2019, Karapatan raised concerns on the possible railroading of the Duterte administration’s draconian measures, which includes the lowering of the minimum age of criminal responsibility and the amendments to the anti-terror legislation. These measures will legitimize repression and further human rights violations in the Philippines, even before the administration’s new senators are proclaimed.

With the questionable results of the recent midterm elections, we already foresee a Senate and a House of Representatives dominated by allies of President Duterte who will take on his dangerous legislative agenda. Recent statements of Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto indicate that the administration is indeed hellbent on passing proposed policies that will hasten the constriction of whatever is left of the so-called democratic space in the country.

Sotto’s recent pronouncement regarding the immediate passage of the amendments to the anti-terror law is alarming. This confirms our fears that many of the repressive legislation is going to be railroaded during the remaining sessions of the 17th Congress, while the public is tuned in on the questionable election results. The Human Security Act of 2007, as it is, already poses a great risk to the people’s civil and political rights, and is prone to abuse. The proposed amendments are worse, with the potential of breeding a monster that will cripple our basic and fundamental rights, all while removing strong accountability measures.

Just before the start of the election campaign period in February this year, the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs endorsed its committee report on the proposed amendments to the Senate plenary, while the version at the House of Representatives remains at the committee level.

In its position paper on the proposed amendments to the Human Security Act, Karapatan emphasized that the proposed measures will enable the wholesale violation of people’s civil liberties and political rights, including the right to freedom of expression and due process. The group also highlighted that amendments to the HSA include the denial of due process rights to individuals and groups in the proscription process and in the course of conducting surveillance, and giving unchecked powers to State authorities to arbitrarily arrest and legally detain persons for 14 days, making them vulnerable to all forms of rights violations. Palabay also cited that under the amended HSA, provisions to exact accountability form state forces, such as the P500,000 per day penalty to be paid by authorities for individuals later acquitted, have also been surreptitiously removed.

The human rights group also expressed support for protest actions at the Senate today against the lowering of the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) led by the Child Rights Network and the Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns. “We are extremely concerned that the Senate is poised to adopt a similar version to that of the House of Representatives bill, aimed at lowering the MACR from 15 years old to 12 years old. We should remain vigilant as lives of millions of children are at stake with this proposed legislation that is based on unscientific and baseless grounds. Filipino children deserve protection, care and social services that will help them in their most difficult circumstances,” Palabay said.

Sotto has also been hankering for the revival of legislative efforts to push through with the reimposition of the death penalty. These acts and the proposed amendments to the 1987 Philippine Constitution are the reasons why Duterte and his allies have worked for a new Senate that will rubberstamp its anti-people policies. We should continue to oppose these forms of suppression on people’s rights, as well as efforts of Duterte and his ilk to establish a full-blown dictatorship.

Cristina Palabay

Secretary General, Karapatan

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