U.N. report raises concern over 'problematic' PH anti-terror bill

In a wide-ranging report on the human rights situation in the Philippines, the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Office expressed concern over the country's proposed anti-terrorism bill feared to crack down on Filipinos' basic rights.

The report, released on Thursday, June 4, cited the bill among "worrying new laws and amendments" that while proposed to strengthen public order and counter terrorism, "risk eroding constitutional and other legal protections."

"The proposed 2020 Anti-Terrorism Act, slated to replace the already problematic Human Security Act, dilutes human rights safeguards, broadens the definition of terrorism and expands the period of detention without warrant…. The vague definitions in the Anti-Terrorism Act may violate the principle of legality," the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said in its 26-page report.

In a press conference on Thursday, UN Human Rights Office's Ravina Shamdasani, who led the crafting of the report, explained this further, describing the proposed law as "even more problematic" than the current law it seeks to replace since its approach to combating terrorism has a "disproportionate impact on civil society."

"We're very worried. Currently there's the Human Security Act which is in place…. The UN human rights mechanisms have already expressed concerns about the current law in that it gives too much discretion to the authorities and the definition of terrorism is too broad. Now this new proposed anti-terrorism law makes it much worse," Shamdasani warned.

Red flags raised

Shamdasani pointed out the proposed new law contained provisions that took already problematic provisions present in the current Human Security Act even further, as state officials would be given more authority to designate individuals or organizations as terrorists.

Under the anti-terror bill, the proposed Anti-Terror Council composed of top Cabinet officials would be able to perform functions otherwise reserved for courts, like ordering the arrest of people it has designated to be terrorists.

Problematic provisions of the proposed law, she said, also include the extended number of days suspects could be held in detention without a warrant.

From the current 3 days under the Human Security Act, the bill stretches this to 14 days, extendable by 10 more days. Individuals can also be placed under surveillance for 60 days, extendable by up to 30 more days, by the police or the military.

"These vague definitions may violate the principle of legality under international law.... And now you add to this the context of the Philippines where a lot of human rights organizations are routinely being labeled as terrorists – this is very worrying," she said.

These concerns were among those raised by civic groups and human rights lawyers in the Philippines, who have warned the bill's broad definitions are unconstitutional.

Up for signature

Despite public opposition against the controversial measure, the House of Representatives passed the anti-terror bill on 3rd and final reading Wednesday night, June 3, after President Rodrigo Duterte certified it as urgent.

The House had adopted the Senate's version of the measure, doing away with the need for a bicameral committee. It is now up for Duterte's signature.

Retired senior associate justice Antonio Carpio said the measure, once enacted into law, can be challenged "on its face" or right away at the Supreme Court as it touches on "fundamental constitutional rights…and provides penalties for its violation." – 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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