The United Nations has called on Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to “refrain” from signing a controversial anti-terrorism bill into law, saying it blurred important distinctions between human rights and terrorism. The world body’s high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, issued the appeal on June 30 during the 44th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council that was looking at the alleged killings and human rights violations of the Duterte administration in its war on drugs. “I urge President [Rodrigo] Duterte to refrain from signing the anti-terrorism bill as it blurs important distinctions between criticism, criminality and terrorism,” Bachelet said in a report on the Philippines. Once the bill becomes law, it could have “chilling effects” on human rights as it touched constitutionally protected freedoms like the freedom of speech and of the press, said the former president of Chile. “This anti-terror measure of the present administration could also hinder support to vulnerable and marginalized communities,” Bachelet added.
On June 3, Philippine lawmakers took only a day to approve House Bill No. 6874 or the Anti-Terrorism Bill after its third and final reading. On June 9, lawmaker Vicente Sotto III confirmed that the bill had gone to Duterte for his signature and approval. Duterte has yet to sign the bill, which has met with protests from rights groups who have called on the Philippine leader to scrap it. Various church and lay rights groups had also called on Duterte to veto the bill due to its vague provisions that could violate human rights. Clergymen in Manila Archdiocese have released a statement saying the Philippine government could turn into the very terrorists the proposed bill sought to protect the people from. “After prayerful discernment, diligent study, critical analysis and prudent discussion of the nature and implications of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, we strongly oppose its approval and we humbly urge President Rodrigo R. Duterte to heed the plea of different concerned groups calling for the bill’s rejection,” they said in a statement. They also said introducing it into law with “vague, amorphous and deleterious provisions” would do more harm than good to the Filipino people. “While our rights have been extremely limited, this bill gives draconian powers to state agents, which, as history will tell us, are almost always abused and misused,” the statement added. The clergy referred to the martial law era when late strongman Ferdinand Marcos silenced critics either by killing or torturing government dissenters. Manila Archdiocese played a crucial role in toppling his and the Joseph Estrada administrations through its late leader Cardinal Jaime Sin.
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