Philippines: ‘Terror Bill’ threatens freedom and basic rights

Lawmakers have approved the Human Security Act or new anti-terrorism law, giving the government more power to restrict dissent. International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has joined its affiliate the National Union of the Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) in condemning the bill and rejecting legislation for its disturbing implications of the rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution.

Special weapons and tactics (SWAT) joined in an anti-terrorism simulation exercise by police in Manila on April 12, 2018. Credit: Noel Celis/AFP

On May 29 the House committees on Public Order and Safety and on National Defense and Security voted to adopt the Senate’s version of a new Human Security Act.  The House of Representatives are expected to debate and fast-track its approval before they go on a two-month break from June 6. President Duterte urged the swift passing of the bill, arguing the Philippines is facing a “menace of terrorist acts for the preservation of national security,” Duterte wrote in a letter to House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano.

The controversial bill will extend the number of days suspected terrorists or dissenters can be arrested without a warrant,  from three days under the previous law to up to 14 days extendable to another 10 days. The law also removes the payment in damages for a person wrongfully accused of terrorism is arrested. The bill allows the police and military to conduct 60-day surveillance activity on suspected terrorists.

In a statement NUJP expressed  alarm over Congress taking advantage to the Covid-19 pandemic to ram through the passage of a bill that should aptly be known as the ‘Terror Bill’. Even without the proposed law, the country has seen how agencies of the state have irresponsibly and illegally accused legitimate organisations, including NUJP, of supposed links to the communist rebel movement, without any evidence.

“NUJP rejects this legislation for its horrendous implications on our people's full enjoyment of the rights and liberties our Constitution guarantees. NUJP calls on Congress to do the right thing by the people you profess to represent and work for, and amend this legislation into one that puts primacy on the defense and respect of rights in the fight against terrorism,” NUJP added.

The IFJ said: “IFJ expresses its concerns on the approval of the law. The bill can be used to silence critics and criminalise opposition of the government. It can endanger the basic rights and freedoms. Amid the global health crisis, the government should not use the pandemic to derail democracy and human rights.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on [email protected]

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

Twitter: @ifjasiapacific, on Facebook: IFJAsiaPacific and Instagram