Manila, Philippines: It’s the season for civil unrest. As millions of people in and outside of the United States stand with the black community and scream for systemic change, the Philippine Senate has just passed a senate bill to repeal the Republic Act No. 9372 commonly known as the Human Security Act of 2007. The amended version, which has been dubbed the Anti-Terrorism Bill, has undergone the standard process and is currently in the hands of President Rodrigo Duterte. After being approved in its third and final reading, all the bill needs now is the president’s signature so that it officially becomes a law.
The implementation of the Anti-Terrorism Bill gives the Philippine National Police, the armed national police authority in the Philippines, the right to punish anyone who speaks up against the government and gives them ultimate power to arrest anyone who is critical of the administration as terrorists even without committing any acts of terrorism.
This law threatens human rights to freedom of speech at a time when the country has just commemorated its Independence Day on June 12 (the day the Philippines gained independence from Spanish colonial rule).
All this occurring against the backdrop of COVID-19; the pandemic that has claimed over a thousand lives in the country and has pushed the economy to spiral downwards, causing job losses and widespread hunger.
While many people are rightfully focussing on day-to-day survival, the implementation of the Anti-Terrorism Bill (not to mention the shutdown of media giant, ABS-CBN) requires serious attention from those who believe in democracy.
In a democratic country, why the urgent need to rob its citizens of their rights? Why censor its people? Why criminalize dissent?
“The Anti-Terrorism Act is a human rights disaster in the making,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The law will open the door to arbitrary arrests and long prison sentences for people or representatives of organizations that have displeased the president.”
What is the Anti-Terrorism Bill?
The Senate Bill 1083 defines terrorism as anybody who commits the following to incite panic or provoke the administration by way of:
- Joining a rally
- Posting or sharing “terrorist” content online
- Donating to non-state recognized groups or organizations
- Conspiring, training, organizing or recruiting for “terrorism”
The proposed law doesn’t define incitement but makes “inciting others” a criminal offence “by means of speeches, proclamations, writings, emblems, banners or other representations tending to the same end.”
Under the draft law, suspected terrorists can be arrested without a warrant, wiretapped for 60 to 90 days, be detained for up to one day, be given a 12-year sentence to life imprisonment without parole and are not eligible for P500,000 reparations in damages per day for wrongful detention.
While this law is meant to protect the country from terrorism, it also threatens the Filipino people with violence and punishment up should they be critical of the government.
“The new counterterrorism law could have a horrific impact on basic civil liberties, due process, and the rule of law amid the Philippines’ shrinking democratic space,” Robertson said. “The Philippine people are about to face an Anti-Terrorism Council that will be prosecutor, judge, jury, and jailer.”
Philippines has a long history of stifling dissent. President Ferdinand Marcos placed the country under martial law in 1972; a law that would remain for 14 years and give the government absolute power to squash rebellion. In 2018, the country recorded the highest murder rate of land and environmental defenders in the world. More recently, the Duterte administration has sparked international outrage with its war on drugs resulting in the killing of thousands of innocent civilians and 47 “drug-war related” cases of enforced disappearances.
Once the bill is signed into law, it will be the government’s most powerful and potent weapon to stop dissent.
What can be done?
Filipinos will need to unite and fight for civil liberties and freedom. Here are some things to do:
- Share helpful information regarding the Anti-Terrorism Bill
- Let your concerns be known by sending an online protest to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com expressing opposition towards the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act but BE CAREFUL and take privacy precautions to reduce the possibility of being tracked.
- Create a new email address that isn’t connected to any of your social media accounts, school, work etc and use a virtual private network (VPN) for anonymity.
- Sign and spread the #JunkTerrorBill petition and this Change.org petition.
- Register to vote for election in 2020 and vote wisely.
- Educate yourself about this bill and create awareness by discussing it with your network.
Activism is not terrorism. In a democratic country, it is everybody’s duty to be involved in the political process, to speak up, to demand justice, and to criticize the government when it seeks to curtail human rights and freedoms such as the right to organize, to speak freely and to dissent.
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Cover image via Change.org.