Groups ask gov’t: Why focus on Anti-Terror Bill and not on COVID-19 problems?
MANILA, Philippines – Organizations both within and outside the Philippines have questioned the government’s prioritization of the Anti-Terror Bill despite allegedly scrambling to solve problems created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The International Coalition of Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) and party-list group Bayan Muna have slammed the “railroading” of the Anti-Terror Bill, seen to amend the Human Security Act of 2007, during a time where the public especially the poor are bearing the brunt of the pandemic’s effects.
Earlier, President Rodrigo Duterte has certified the controversial bill as urgent in a letter to Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano. House Bill No. 6875 — which adopted the version passed by the Senate, is currently at the committee level, up for second reading.
“We are appalled of how the Philippine government is giving priority to repressive legislation but remains bungling in addressing the pandemic. We have seen too many deaths both from the virus and the violence President Duterte has unleashed against his people,” ICHRP chairperson Peter Murphy said.
“There are many bills in Congress that congressmen and senators should focus on especially those that effectively respond to the COVID pandemic, but they had to kowtow to Pres. Duterte’s need to approve his pet anti-terror bill,” Bayan Muna chair Neri Colmenares said in a separate statement.
According to ICHRP, the possible enactment of the proposed measure will have several repercussions, including a harsher approach to critics as they may now be accused of being part of terrorist groups.
Under HB 6875, people found to propose terroristic acts or incite others to commit terrorism can be jailed up to 12 years. Meanwhile, electronic surveillance and warrantless arrests — although Senator Panfilo Lacson assured before that it would have to follow a stringent procedure.
But both Murphy and Colmenares believe that the bill, coupled with the lockdowns placed in various parts of the country, would lead to a de facto martial law.
“The Philippines has the longest and most militarized response to COVID-19 in the world. This terror bill, if signed into law, is a rubber stamp to already undeclared military rule and will only legalize the targeting of critics and civilians,” Murphy claimed.
“Despite these pressing needs, the House approved a bill that has no relation whatsoever to people’s health and COVID and grants Malacanang more power to arrest critics. The passage of a more draconian anti-terror law will worsen the COVID crisis as it would cow dissenters, the media and all those who criticize Pres. Duterte’s inutile COVID response,” Colmenares added.
Despite the criticisms, government officials like Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Interior Secretary Eduardo Año insisted that the proposed law ensures the protection of the people’s rights, which would prevent abuse of the measure.
“My only comment to those opposing this is there’s no basis for their opposition,” Lorenzana said at a press briefing. “I read the proposed law. Human rights is sufficiently covered by provisions.”
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