UCA News
Contribute

Philippine anti-terrorism law 'threatens human rights'

The law took effect last year and gives the country's security forces sweeping powers to go after suspected terrorists
Philippine anti-terrorism law 'threatens human rights'

Protesters wearing face masks display anti-terror bill placards during a rally at a university campus in Manila on July 4, 2020. (Photo: AFP)

Published: December 10, 2021 04:30 AM GMT
Updated: December 10, 2021 04:37 AM GMT

The Philippines' highest court has struck down a "killer caveat" in President Rodrigo Duterte's controversial anti-terrorism law, but critics said the rest of the legislation still threatened human rights.

The law, which took effect last year, gives the country's security forces sweeping powers to go after suspected terrorists, but opponents say it is being used to stifle dissent and target government critics.

Lawyers, journalists and rights groups had petitioned the Supreme Court to remove sections of the law they argued were unconstitutional.

In a brief statement on Dec. 9, the court said the full bench had voted in favour of declaring two parts of the law unconstitutional.

The petitioners said one was a provision they had dubbed a "killer caveat," which they had argued was so vague that a protest or strike could be declared an act of terrorism.

Its removal was an "important win for the protection of civil liberties," said Jose Diokno of the Free Legal Assistance Group.

The anti-terrorism council, comprised of members of Duterte's cabinet, can order the warrantless arrest of anyone they deem a terrorist

Others were more cautious after the court rejected challenges to other provisions.

"We welcome the striking down of the killer caveat," said environmental activist network Kalikasan. But it noted the court upheld "the draconian powers of the anti-terrorism council that arrests, harasses and murders with zero regard of your legal standing."

The anti-terrorism council, comprised of members of Duterte's cabinet, can order the warrantless arrest of anyone they deem a terrorist. Suspects can be detained for up to 24 days without charge.

Cristina Palabay, secretary general of rights group Karapatan, said other sections of the law remained "largely vague and susceptible to subjective interpretations and, therefore, abuse."

National security adviser Hermogenes Esperon declined to comment until he had seen the ruling. The full decision has not yet been published.

The government has argued the law is needed to combat terrorism in the country's south, where communist and Islamist groups have waged long-running insurgencies.

But UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet previously expressed concerns the law could blur the distinction between criticism and criminality.

Several opponents of Duterte's administration have been put behind bars, including opposition Senator Leila de Lima who faces drug charges she insists were fabricated to silence her.

Veteran journalist Maria Ressa, a co-winner of this year's Nobel Peace Prize and one of the petitioners challenging the anti-terrorism law, is on bail pending an appeal against a conviction last year in a cyberlibel case.

Help UCA News to be independent
Dear reader,
Trafficking is one of the largest criminal industries in the world, only outdone by drugs and arms trafficking, and is the fastest-growing crime today.
Victims come from every continent and are trafficked within and to every continent. Asia is notorious as a hotbed of trafficking.
In this series, UCA News introduces our readers to this problem, its victims, and the efforts of those who shine the light of the Gospel on what the Vatican calls “these varied and brutal denials of human dignity.”
Help us with your donations to bring such stories of faith that make a difference in the Church and society.
A small contribution of US$5 will support us continue our mission…
William J. Grimm
Publisher
UCA News
Asian Bishops
Latest News
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia