Dude’s Got Priorities: Duterte certifies anti-terror bill urgent despite public protests

President Rodrigo Duterte. Photo: Presidential Communications/FB
President Rodrigo Duterte. Photo: Presidential Communications/FB

President Rodrigo Duterte certified as urgent a controversial anti-terrorism bill as the number of COVID-19 cases all over the Philippines continues to mount.

In a letter sent to House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano yesterday, Duterte called for the “immediate enactment” of House Bill 6875, which will amend the Human Security Act of 2007. The president said the bill was necessary to “address the urgent need to strengthen the law on anti-terrorism in order to adequately and effectively contain the menace of terrorist acts for the preservation of national security and the promotion of general welfare.”

Read: Metro Manila put under general community quarantine despite spike of COVID-19 cases

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana also urged Congress yesterday to pass the bill before it goes on recess this week. The Senate version of the bill, which was passed in February, seeks to imprison for life without parole those who have been found guilty of participating “in the planning, training, preparation, and facilitation in the commission of terrorism, possessing objects connected with the preparation for the commission of terrorism, or collecting or making documents connected with the preparation of terrorism.”

The proposed law will also seek to imprison for life those who recruit any group which has been labeled a terrorist organization by the United Nations Security Council. Persons who threaten to commit any terrorist acts, or incite other people to do so, will be imprisoned for 12 years. The bill penalizes Filipinos who commit terrorist acts overseas as well as foreigners who recruit their members in the Philippines.

Critics of the government have said that the proposed law will lead to the erosion of human rights. In a statement, the National Union of People’s Lawyers said that the law leaves “into the hands of law enforcement to determine what terrorist acts would actually include with its vague, overbroad, and catch all enumeration of the crime’s elements.”

“[T]his makes the draconian proposal prone to abuse and misuse by the military and police, which agencies have – the records and experience would show – a long history of brutality, rights violations, and intolerance for any form of dissent,” the organization added.

Filipinos online are also protesting against the bill, with many accusing the Duterte government of possibly using the law to arrest legitimate activists. This includes @kouschi, who wrote, “[A]ctivism is not terrorism. don’t let them take away our rights. Who is the real terrorist?”

Other critics have pointed out that the Duterte administration should prioritize eradicating COVID-19 first, having killed almost 1,000 people as well as causing the loss of at least 2 million jobs. 

Wrote @soomimachine, “They’re actually going to work on this [bill] first before the pandemic that’s happening? [They’re not going to prioritize] people who have died because they did not receive any support from this corrupt government?”

Activist group Akbayan Youth asked, “Will the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 protect 109M Filipinos from the virus? Will it bring back jobs for more than 2 million workers displaced? Will it provide free treatment for 11,972 active cases of COVID-19?”

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