On July 3, 2020, President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte signed a new Anti-Terrorism Bill, which was rushed through the houses of Congress without appropriate discussion, and has amassed protests and disapproval within the nation and abroad since its draft was first announced.
The Confederation of Lawyers in Asia and Pacific (COLAP) has raised concerns that anti-terrorism bill of the Philippine government is “violative of human rights and the due process of the law.” It's statement opposing the the bill stated following concerns with the bill:
- It punishes suspected individuals for organizations who are proscribed as terrorists and that the very broad and vague definition of terrorism under the bill poses danger to the basic freedoms of the people.
- The suspect’s right to due process of law is virtually denied and the presumption of innocence until proven guilty by a court is virtually negated.
- It enable the President-backed Anti-Terrorism Council to label any individual or group as a terrorist “without the opportunity of being heard.
- Any member or sympathizer of a proscribed organization is punished as a terrorist even if he or she does not actually take arms against the government.
- The bill encroaches on one’s privacy as it gives the government access to personal and bank information and freezes bank accounts and assets.
- The bill violates the sovereign rights of states and the internationally mandated norm that criminal jurisdiction is confined to the territories of a state, citing its extraterritorial nature.
Hundreds of protestors took to the streets of Manila protesting the bill on 27th July when President Duterte gave his annual State of the Nation address. While it is true that the has nation faced the threat of terrorism in recent years, it is also agreed upon that Duterte’s response has been perhaps equally brutal.
This bill was also criticised by the Christian religious organisations which issued a joint declaration on this law. They stated “We are bothered by the broad and vague definition of terrorism and terrorist. It can include acts of dissent, free speech, right to assemble, right to organize, freedom of belief, among others. By such a broad definition it is open to abuse and misuse.”
An opposition Congress member, Edcel Lagman and two lawyer groups of Philippine approached the Philippine Supreme Court and asked it to strike down the new anti-terrorism law, or parts of it, as they called it unconstitutional for infringing on civil liberties.
The Philipino American Student Association (FASA) also denounced the new anti-terrorism law in its Instagram post which stated, “FASA sa UW denounces Duterte’s signing of the Anti-Terrorism Bill to which its terms do nothing to resolve the true terrorism in our nation and instead conducts an outright assault on the freedom of speech from our people living on the motherland and even Filipinx abroad,”
International Human Right organisation, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Regional Director, Nicholas Bequelin, in response to this law said, “Under Duterte’s presidency, even the mildest government critics can be labelled terrorists. He further stated, “This law’s introduction is the latest example of the country’s ever-worsening human rights record. Once again, this shows why the UN should launch a formal investigation into ongoing widespread and systematic violations in the country.”
Prior to this, Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’ received global scrutiny, especially for the numerous extrajudicial killings that have occurred since he came to power and the effect of this aggressive policy on the poorest citizens of the nation.
Apart from this, he has also repeatedly voiced opinions in favour of martial law and silenced news media that spoke against him. But he seems to be encouraged largely by his own people, among whom Duterte continues to be popular.
Many have called Duterte the ‘revival’ of authoritarianism in the small Southeast Asian country, which has only recently seen some semblance of democracy after years of dictatorship under Ferdinand Marcos (of whom Duterte was a close family friend).
The Philippines is walking a thin line between fascism and democracy, and which side it ends up on depends not only on the actions of its government, but just as much on the actions of its people.