Lawyers warn of abuse, attack on free speech in anti-terror bill

Jun. 02, 2020

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – Lawyers’ groups warned that the anti-terror bill being pushed by President Duterte in Congress will weaken democracy and Constitutional protection of people’s freedoms.

The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) said the bill criminalizes free speech, which is crucial in asserting people’s needs especially in this pandemic.

“This proposed law would undermine our democracy and either threaten, restrain or discourage the people’s right to organize, criticize the government, protest and demand for a redress of their grievances,” said Attorney Edre Olalia, chair of NUPL.

Olalia added that it “legalizes red-tagging of organizations on suspicion of engaging in abstrusely termed ‘terrorist acts'”.

As the country continues to battle with the COVID-19 outbreak, there has a spate of killings of activists and red-tagging against progressive groups.

Last week an urban poor leader, Carlito Badion of Kadamay, was found dead with bullets in his body in Ormoc, Leyte.

On Tuesday, during the House of Representatives’ deliberation on the anti-terror bill, posters were found in the streets of Manila red-tagging the members of the Makabayan Coalition in the House, who are strongly objecting for the passage of the bill.

“This threat is especially real and greater for organizations that have been relentlessly and viciously targeted and red-tagged by the likes of NTF-ELCAC (National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict) as ‘terrorist’ groups or fronts essentially because of the pro-poor and progressive agenda and advocacies that they carry,” the NUPL said.

The government has filed a petition in court back in 2018 to declare the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) as a terrorist organization. This was criticized when the list included activists, lawmakers, and even a United Nations special rapporteur based in Cordillera.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) have warned the government against red-tagging individuals and groups.

“Time and again, we have cautioned, particularly the government, on the dangers of haphazardly labelling of persons and groups without sufficient proof. Red-tagging is a slippery slope as it may trigger a number of human rights violations, including harassment, unlawful arrests, torture, and threats to life,” their statement said.

But Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the public has nothing to fear with the anti-terror bill, adding that safeguards against abuse were put in place. Lawmakers from the administration also guarantee there is still freedom of speech among critics.

But the Concerned Lawyers for Civil Liberties (CLCL) said that the bill not only contains unconstitutional provisions, but also “weakens protections against abuse and misuse.”

The group explained that under the bill, the Anti Terrorism Council is allowed to perform functions reserved for courts. It also “empowers” law enforcement agents can also arrest and detain suspected persons even without charges in violation to Article VII, Section 18 of the 1987 Constitution.

They added that it also “tolerates” extensive surveillance of suspects and interception and recording of communication.

“The general tone of the bill supports secret surveillance – the courts are required to be informed of such surveillance, but only upon filing of charges before the prosecutor. In short, subjects of surveillance and ‘suspected’ persons will have already been hauled to jail before they are made aware of actions against them,” the group said.

Roneo Clamor, deputy secretary-general of human rights group Karapatan, also said that the measure would only embolden state forces to commit more human rights violations “with impunity.”

“We have already seen what happens when state security forces are given more power. Ordinary citizens criticizing the president and his anti-people policies have been served subpoenas or have been put under surveillance, harassed, and arrested, even for satirical posts,” Clamor said.

“The bill’s overbroad definition of ‘terrorism’ and ‘terroristic acts’ along with the removal of penalties for law enforcement effectively criminalizes any and all forms of dissent and opposition to anti-people policies and acts of government as a form of ‘terrorism’ and will make it highly prone to abuse,” he added.

The House has approved the bill on its second reading Tuesday, June 2, and will be passed for the third and final reading before being voted on its next session and . The Senate in February passed on third and final reading approved Senate Bill 1083 or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 to repeal the Human Security Act of 2007. (

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