Duterte certifies as urgent anti-terrorism bill feared to clamp down on basic rights

President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday, June 1, certified as urgent a proposed tougher law against terrorism, clearing the way for Congress to fast-track the passage of the controversial bill feared to clamp down on Filipinos' basic freedoms.

In a letter sent to House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano on Monday, Duterte called for the immediate enactment of House Bill No. 6875 seeking to amend the Human Security Act of 2007.

The House had earlier adopted the Senate's version of the proposed new law, which the upper chamber already passed on 3rd reading last February 26.

In calling for its passage, Duterte cited the "urgent need" to amend the anti-terrorism law "to adequately and effectively contain the menace of terrorists acts for the preservation of national security and the promotion of general welfare."

Why this matters. Civic groups and rights lawyers sounded the alarm on certain provisions of Senate Bill No. 1083 or the Philippine Anti-Terrorism Bill, warning it could endanger basic rights and freedoms. (READ: Fears of losing freedoms escalate as Congress rushes to pass anti-terror bill)

For one, lawyers warned the proposed bill contained provisions that practically criminalized opposition against the government as it would authorize the arrest and detention of anyone who expresses dissent to government.

This was seen in Section 29 of the proposed bill, which allows the Anti-Terror Council (ATC) made up of top cabinet officials to do functions otherwise reserved for courts, like ordering the arrests of people it has designated to be terrorists.

The bill also authorizes any law enforcement agent to arrest and detain without warrant "a person suspected of committing any of the acts" punished by the bill, as long as it is authorized by the ATC.

House opposition members had also questioned certain provisions of the bill, as broader definitions on terroristic acts and fewer restrictions on law enforcement could leave the measure prone to abuse.

Fears over the clampdown on basic rights have elicited wide condemnation from the public and civic groups, who likewise questioned the timing of the government's move to pass the controversial law while the country is battling the coronavirus pandemic.

With the bill certified as urgent, the House can pass the bill on 2nd reading as well as 3rd and final reading on the same day.

Congress will adjourn on June 5 and will resume session in late July, when President Rodrigo Duterte delivers his 5th State of the Nation Address. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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