CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines – Various groups in Northern Mindanao expressed strong opposition to the Anti-Terrorism Act 2020 which they said will trample human rights as the country grapples on the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

The church-based group Philippine Misereor Partnership said that Duterte administration’s push for this law overshadowed the more urgent need for Covid-19 measures and policies.

“As we call for systematic, efficient, and humane solutions in this time of crisis, the nation was instead ‘gifted’ with this despicable bill, intended to control and manage the growing dissent of people for the government’s failure to address the problems of the poorest Filipinos during the pandemic,” said Yolanda Esguerra, PMPI national coordinator.

Misereor is a social development and advocacy network of more than 250 Philippine church and faith-based, non-governmental, and people’s organizations spread all over the country, in partnership with Misereor, a social development arm of the German Bishops based in Aachen, Germany.

The group expressed concern that the new law will affect their work at the grassroots by way of red-tagging and other forms of harassment.

“Even as we foresee that our work to journey and support the struggle of our partner mining affected communities, peasant and fisherfolk communities as well as the urban poor communities, and even our work to defend the environment, can be easily red-tagged or branded as acts of terrorism, we shall not waver at our commitments,” the group said.

The group further said, “We believe that this law will further assault whatever democracy is left in the country. A democracy which has been slowly eroded by this President and his minions in Congress since their assumption to power. This is an attack to our failing democracy. Almost a final nail to the coffin.”

Despite statements from government’s defense sector that there will be safeguards on this law, Misereor believes the law will subvert the people’s fundamental rights and liberties, paving the way for a much worse situation than the martial law during the rule of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

“We will not be fooled by posturing of peace, compassion, and care for people nor be intimidated by violent and threatening language. We will not submit to fear. We will continue to fight for the rights of people and the environment especially in this crucial time.”

Misereor said it will join other groups calling for the repeal of the law, including petitioning the Supreme Court to suspend or repeal the law.

“As part of a broader civil society movement that advocates for upholding our bill of rights contained in the fundamental law of the land, as well as laws protecting the rights of the vulnerable groups, we oppose this measure because its vagueness and over-broadness is prone to abuse and can be used to suppress dissent and our activism,” it added.

The Anti-Terrorism Act is also criticized by sectors that have experienced being targets of human rights violations.

Drieza Lininding, chair of the Marawi City-based Moro Consensus Group, said that in four years under the Duterte administration and seeing Marawi destroyed under Martial Law, the human rights situation is going to turn worse.

“With [anti-terrorism bill] now a law, nobody can guarantee that this will not be abused considering our past experiences with government enforcers,” he said.

Lininding has expressed fear that the Moro people will be gravely impacted by the law.

“By profile we are already suspects and they can conduct surveillance or detain any of us,” he said, adding that they will support all peaceful means to repeal the law.

The Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (Selda), a group of former political detainees, has denounced the anti-terrorism law.

“Clearly, the safety of the country is not the priority of the government,” said Danilo dela Fuente, Selda spokesperson, in a statement.

“Amid the ballooning number of COVID-19 patients and worsening economic slump, not to mention the blatant protocol violations of government officials such as PNP-NCR chief Debold Sinas and Senator Koko Pimentel, the Duterte administration has put more importance in signing this problematic measure, notwithstanding the massive opposition and protests due to its unconstitutional and anti-people provisions,” dela Fuente said. (

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