US lawmakers urge Duterte government to repeal anti-terror law

MANILA, Philippines – US lawmakers have called on the Duterte government to repeal the highly controversial anti-terrorism law, echoing concerns that it endangers human rights and democracy in the Philippines.

Illinois 9th District Representative Jan Schakowsky and California 27th District Representative Judy Chu said on Wednesday night, July 15, that they sent a letter to Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez, wherein 50 US lawmakers expressed their concerns over the measure.

What they’re saying: Schakowsky said the Anti-Terror Act of 2020 is feared to clamp down on Filipinos’ basic rights and only showed that President Rodrigo Duterte was “intolerant of any and all dissent.”  (READ: The Anti-Terror Act is worse than Martial Law)

“We stand together in calling for the Philippine government to repeal the Anti-Terorrism Act of 2020 that risks further undermining human rights in the Philippines. This law is over broad and we believe it is already being sued to stifle peaceful decent and target civil society, including labor and human rights groups,” Schakowsky said in a press briefing. 

“We fear it will also be used against anyone who protests against the government, whether it be against abuse in the government, delay in the distribution of COVID-19 aid, or any other grievance because the President has shown he is intolerant of any and all dissent,” she added. 

Chu said the measure threatened democracy and that the letter would be US lawmakers’ first step in speaking out against the Philippines’ Anti-Terror Act. 

“Simply put, President Duterte’s new powers under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 are a threat to democracy and human rights in the Philippine because despite the title, this legislation is not about terrorism. It’s about silencing dissent,” Chu said. 

“It tells the government of the Philippines that we are watching…. We see the ongoing attacks against anyone who dares to speak out against violence and the trampling of rights and we are telling them this egregious attacks on human rights cannot stand,” she added. 

What may happen next: Schakowsky and Chu said US lawmakers would consider drafting legislation to address the human rights situation in the Philippines. 

“We are definitely considering legislation but we thought we would start by sending a strong message right now before this law even goes into effect,” Schakowsky said.

Chu said the letter to the Philippine government also had the backing of New York 16th District Representative Eliot Engel who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and ranking members such as New Jersey 4th District Representative Chris Smith.

The state of play: Defenders of the Anti-Terror Act have repeatedly said that space for criticism is assured under the new law as its definition of terrorism excludes "advocacy, protest, dissent, stoppage of work, industrial or mass action, and other similar exercises of civil and political rights."

Legal experts, however, have repeatedly pointed out a “killer” caveat to this under the law which says dissent or protest won’t be punished as terrorism so long as it is "not intended to cause death or serious physical harm to a person, to endanger a person’s life, or to create a serious risk to public safety."  (READ: EXPLAINER: Comparing dangers in old law and anti-terror bill)

The law is facing at least 9 petitions before the Philippines’ Supreme Court, the latest filed just on Thursday, July 16. – 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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