MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday signed a controversial anti-terrorism law, despite opposition and fears that it will worsen the country’s human rights situation.
The new law allows detention of suspects for up to 24 days without charge, and a 60-day surveillance with an allowable 30-day extension that can be conducted by the police or the military against suspected terrorists.
Leaders of the autonomous Bangsamoro government in Mindanao had urged Duterte to allow Congress to “review and address the issue of vagueness, overbreadth, and other concerns” related to some of the bill’s provisions, as they said the law would bring further discrimination against Filipino Muslims.
Bangsamoro Chief Minister Ahod “Al Haj Murad” Ebrahim said he feared that among those hardest hit once the anti-terrorism bill passed into law would be from Bangsamoro.
Ebrahim wrote to the Bangsamoro Transition Authority Parliament, saying that it was his “moral duty” to speak out to ensure that the measures intended to address terrorism would not be used as a means to “subvert the fundamental rights and freedom” of individuals, in general, and to normalize abuse and discrimination against the Bangsamoro, in particular.
Ebrahim, who is also the chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which used to be the nation’s largest separatist group, also said in his letter that the bill had a vague definition of terrorism, surveillance of suspects, interception and recording of communications, and detention without a judicial warrant.
MP Zia Alonto Adiong shared Ebrahim’s concerns.
“The bill seeks to stabilize the peace and order situation not only for Mindanao but for the whole country,” he told Arab News. “However, due to the vagueness of some of its provisions, especially the outright dismissal of the constitutionally guaranteed due process under the law ... it may create a scenario where disarming the actual terrorist from gaining grounds may turn into disarming the people of the very rights the Constitution provided for them to protect themselves from abuse.”
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque rejected the Bangsamoro leaders’ concerns.
“We consider the concern that the bill would lead to abuse, especially to our Muslim brothers and sisters, unfounded. Passing a class legislation against the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, I would like to stress, would not even cross the minds of the proponents of the said bill. This piece of legislation is against terrorists and terrorism and not against a particular regional/ethnic group.”
Roque added that the president understood this better as he was from Mindanao and would take into account the appeal of the Bangsamoro leaders when the proposed bill reached his desk.
Hours later, Duterte signed the bill into law.
“As we have said the president, together with his legal team, took time to study this piece of legislation weighing the concerns of different stakeholders,” Roque told reporters, adding that the signing of the document demonstrated the government’s “serious commitment to stamp out” terrorism.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, condemned the enactment of the new anti-terror law. “Duterte has pushed Philippines democracy into an abyss. The law threatens to significantly worsen the human rights situation in the Philippines, which has nosedived since the catastrophic ‘war on drugs’ began four years ago.”
The anti-terrorism bill was approved by Congress in June, with 73 legislators voting yes, 31 opposing, and 29 abstaining. It replaces the Human Security Act of 2007.