President Rodrigo Duterte’s approval of a new anti-terrorism law has sparked public outrage in the Philippines. Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea confirmed to the media that Duterte signed the anti-terrorism bill into law on July 3 despite calls from local and international groups to veto the bill due to its constitutionally sweeping provisions. Duterte certified the bill as “urgent” amid the coronavirus pandemic, allowing lawmakers to fast-track its reading and approval within one day. The bill is now known as Republic Act No. 11479 after Duterte’s approval despite calls from human rights and church groups for a veto due to its vague and ambiguous provisions. On June 30, United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet called on Duterte to refrain from signing the controversial bill due to the “blurring of important distinctions between criticism, criminality and terrorism.”
Bachelet made the comment during the 44th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council that also discussed Duterte’s alleged human rights violations in his war on drugs. Presidential communications chief Martin Andanar, however, said the Duterte government had “simply responded” to a global call in fighting terrorism. “As the president is heavily afflicted by terrorism, as reflected in its ranking in the Global Terrorism Index of 2019, the Duterte administration stands firm in its position of undertaking stricter measures against terrorists,” Andanar said. He called for national cooperation among Filipinos to support Duterte’s decision to sign the bill into law. “Let us all work together to defeat terrorism and fulfill the president’s vision of a safe and secure, terrorism-free Philippines,” said Andanar. Human rights and church groups, however, are not convinced by Andanar’s statement, saying the law would stifle the rights of Duterte’s critics. Bishop Jose Bagaforo of Kidapawan, chairman of Caritas Philippines, labeled the newly enacted law “inhuman and unjust” as it threatened the very values of freedom, justice and compassion. “The bill is a glaring attempt to silence critics and destroy any disagreement against the government, and consequently stifle people’s freedom of expression, academic freedom, right to organize for human and social development, and even freedom of the press,” he said. Rights group Bayan Muna said the definition of terrorism is vague under the new law. "Duterte could still pin down his critics and tag them as terrorists,” it said in a statement, adding that it was particularly concerned over the provision in the law that punishes “incitement to commit terrorism.” “The law creates a new crime, a very dangerous crime, as it empowers the president or the executive branch to file a case against anyone by mere inciting to terrorism. This creates a chilling effect among activists and dissenters of the government,” Bayan Muna said. Amnesty International said the Duterte administration had effectively crafted a new weapon to brand and hound any perceived enemies of the state. “Under Duterte's presidency, even the mildest government critics can be labeled as terrorists. This law is the latest example of the country’s ever-worsening human rights record,” the rights group said on social media.
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