Anti-Terror Bill’s vague definition of terrorism prone to abuse – CHR
MANILA, Philippines – The broad and vague definition of terrorism in the Anti-Terror Bill opens avenues for abuse as authorities could simply tag criticisms as inciting to terrorist acts, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said.
CHR spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia explained on Tuesday that while they are against terrorist acts and support government programs against terrorism, the rights of the people should not be sacrificed.
“With the vague and overly broad definition, authorities could wantonly tag exercise of rights as terrorist expressions under this Act by even defining the crime of ‘inciting to terrorism’—referring to ‘means of speeches, proclamations, writings, emblems, banners, or other representations’,” De Guia said in a statement.
“Such overreach may be seen as disproportionate and highly intrusive as it allows for room for discretion which could be possibly used to limit substantial freedoms, including expression of dissent and critical perspectives most especially by civil society and human rights groups, under a democracy,” she added.
But CHR stressed that the problems with House Bill No. 6875, currently being deliberated at the House of Representatives, does not end with the tagging of critics as ‘terrorists’. According to De Guia, the actions thereafter — detention and electronic surveillance, are also sources of concern.
CHR also cautioned about the absolution of criminal liability of law enforcers, should there be a delay in the delivery of detained persons — which they believe goes against provisions in the 1987 Constitution on due process.
“Prolonged detention under the bill—up to 14 calendar days, with the possibility of extending it to 10 more days—may result to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or torture, which does not only pertain to acts of interrogation, but also conditions experienced by the suspect,” De Guia noted.
“It is more concerning that, given the proposed extended period of detention, the said Act further absolves authorities from any ‘criminal liability for the delay in the delivery of detained persons to the proper judicial authorities’ despite the Constitutional guarantee of presumption of innocence and due process,” she added.
The bill — which will amend the Human Security Act of 2007 — was certified as urgent by President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday. But this move by the administration has only drawn criticisms from civil society groups and human rights circles, as the government appears to prioritize the Anti-Terror bill over measures that would solve problems created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Supporters of the bill like Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana assured that human rights is well protected under the proposal, with Senator Panfilo Lacson saying that there are safeguards to prevent abuse.
However, CHR believes that this bill would only grant a power that would do away with the checks and balances — as they identify probable cause and not the judiciary.
“In the end, CHR recognizes that terrorism is an evolving threat to all. Terrorists, with acts affronting human dignity, must then face the full force of the law […] At the same time, we equally stress that laws against terrorism are enacted and implemented in defense of human rights,” De Guia claimed.
“We must then continue to be vigilant that it is terroristic acts that this bill is seeking to curb, not the legitimate exercise of rights and freedoms. And for instances of abuse, those who have used their position and power in excess must also be held to account,” she added.
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