House panels approve new anti-terrorism bill, alarms netizens

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 30) — Filipinos took to social media to criticize the new anti-terrorism bill after it was approved by lawmakers on Friday.

During the joint meeting of the House Committees on Public Order and Safety and on National Defense and Security, most members voted in favor of a substitute bill designed to ease legal restrictions on law enforcers and strengthen the law against terrorism in the country.

The House joint committee’s adoption of the Senate version of the bill effectively repealed the Human Security Act of 2007 and approved a similar but still unnumbered substitute bill based on it.

The Senate approved in February Senate Bill 1083, or the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, which seeks to extend the number of days suspected terrorists can be detained without a warrant of arrest – from three days under the current law to up to 14 days, extendable by another 10 days.

It also removed the provision under the Human Security Act that orders the payment of half a million pesos in damages for each day that a person wrongfully accused of terrorism is detained.

Furthermore, any person who shall threaten to commit any act of terrorism, propose any terroristic acts or incite others to commit terrorism shall suffer the penalty of 12 years in prison.

Opposition Senators Risa Hontiveros and Kiko Pangilinan voted against the bill, raising concerns over key provisions, among them allowing the police and military to conduct a 60-day surveillance on suspected terrorists and compelling telcos to disclose their calls and messages.

Pangilinan said the bill, once enacted, "may be used against critics and opposition leaders."

"The instruction of the House leadership is to somehow submit and approve today a bill that is similar to the Senate bill, because of the possibility of avoiding a [bicameral conference]," Masbate 1st District Representative Narciso Bravo Jr., who chairs the House Committee on Public Order and Safety, said on Friday. "The urgency of this bill requires us to really fast track [its] approval."

Netizens and various groups slammed Congress for its hasty passage of the bill, citing amendments that authorize basic human rights violations in the country.

The hashtag #JunkTerrorBill was trending in the Philippines on Friday, along with the hashtag #OustDuterte and 'ACTIVISM IS NOT TERRORISM.'

Pangilinan's daughter Frankie wrote: "even tweeting any thoughts against the government can, and likely will, be considered an ‘act of terrorism’ under this bill. it’s an infringement upon our most basic human rights."

Another netizen simply said "Activism is not Terrorism," while another said the same but added: "our heroes spent decades fighting for this country's democracy yet this government is removing the right of freedom of speech. criminalizing criticism. this is not what we need during this pandemic."

Kabataan party-list Rep. Sarah Elago also took to social media, saying "it has no safeguards for the protection of human rights, redress of grievances. This can be weaponized to silence critics, suppress dissent."

"The House joint committees basically threw out all the position and recommendations of human rights organizations and international experts in the name of fast-tracking the Duterte regime’s desperate bid to crush dissent, civil liberties, and people’s rights," Karapatan Deputy Secretary General Roneo Clamor said.

"The passage of draconian amendments to the Anti-Terrorism law will seal the deal in Duterte’s brutal campaign of State terrorism – the final piece in the regime’s bid to establish a full blown fascist dictatorship and de facto martial law," he added. 

Meanwhile, Nagkaisa Labor Coalition pointed to the "extremely broad definitions of terrorism" in the proposed measure, "which would virtually criminalize almost all forms of dissent."

"Another equally appalling provision would be the warrantless arrests and detention of suspects, which basically overturns every Filipino’s right to be presumed innocent until proven otherwise," Nagkaisa Labor Coalition Chairperson Atty. Sonny Matula said in a statement.

"Instead of focusing on how to effectively deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, or to help the 11,000 ABS-CBN employees, as well as the projected 10 million working class Filipinos…our Honorable lawmakers saw it fit to invest their time into crafting more laws that would possibly endanger more the already grim human rights situation in our country today," he added.