US lawmakers urge Philippine gov’t to repeal anti-terror law

MANILA, July 16 (Mabuhay) — At least 45 lawmakers in the US urged the Philippine government to immediately repeal the recently-signed Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.

In a virtual press conference on Wednesday night (Manila time), Representative Janice Schakowsky of Illinois called the law a new ‘weapon’ to suppress dissent in the Philippines.

“We stand together in calling for the Philippine government to repeal the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 that risks further undermining human rights in the Philippines,” Schakowsky said.

“This law is overbroad and we believe it’s already being used to stifle peaceful dissent and target civil society including human and labor rights groups in the Philippines,” she added.

The lawmakers sent a letter to the Philippine ambassador to the US to raise their concerns about the new law.

Schakowsky noted that the anti-terrorism law can also be used against protesters calling out the abuses in the government, the delay of COVID-19 aid, or any other grievance.

“The President has shown he is intolerant of any and all dissent,” she said.

“This law came amid a global pandemic and during a time when we are already witnessing increased attacks in human rights defenders and critics of the Duterte government under a climate of impunity,” she added.

Schakowsky also cited reports of human rights violations, killings, and arbitrary detention that resulted from the administration’s heavy handed focus on ‘national security threat’ and war on drugs.

California’s Representative Judy Chu, also the chairperson of Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, said the law was created to target advocates of labor, human rights, and indigenous communities.

“The Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 is a threat to democracy and human rights in the Philippines. Despite the title, this legislation is not about terrorism. It’s about silencing dissent,” Chu said.

“The true targets of this law are advocates of human rights, the environment, workers, the indigenous communities,” she added.

During the press conference, former Philippine legislator Neri Colmenares welcomed the support from the US lawmakers and noted that it will ‘save lives’ in the Philippines.

“We are very glad that our colleagues in the US Congress—and our hope, even in the Senate—would support such an act because it matters to a lot of Filipino people,” Colmenares said.

“Thank you for all the solidarity support you’ve given us. We need it in this times when a dictatorship is looming in the Philippines with President Duterte at the helm,” he added.

Duterte signed Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 or Republic Act 11479 on July 3 amid objections from various groups, including local human rights organizations, United Nations human rights body, and the Bangsamoro Transition Authority.

At least five petitions have been filed before the Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of the Anti-Terror Act.

Critics have warned against the up-to 24-day warrantless detention period for suspected terrorists, and the alleged authority of the Anti-Terrorism Council to authorize in writing the arrest of terrorism suspects.

The measure states that any person found guilty by the court of planning, training, preparing and facilitating the commission of terrorism will be penalized with life imprisonment without the benefit of parole. The same penalty will be imposed on a person found guilty of conspiracy to commit terrorism.

Under the measure, any person who will threaten to commit terrorism will be imprisoned for 12 years.

The same jail term will be imposed on those who will propose any terroristic act or incite others to commit terrorism.

Senator Panfilo Lacson, who authored the bill at the Senate, earlier expressed confidence that the law could withstand scrutiny.

He said the Anti-Terror Law has enough safeguards and he will be “eagled-eyed and vigilant” in guarding against abuses.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III, for his part, said he believes the SC will not be intimidated by the number of petitions filed against the law.(MNS)

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