Philippines president imposing new repressive law

Daphna Whitmore

The Philippines is enduring one of the longest lockdowns in the world. For President Duterte the lockdown provides an opportunity to garner more powers and to push through a brazen assault on human rights. A new law called the Anti-Terror Bill has been passed under urgency and it authorises warrantless arrests and gives the Executive power to designate anyone a terrorist.

Under this law an Anti-Terrorist Council will be established, comprised of people from the Executive, handpicked by Duterte. Many of them are former generals from the military with long records of human rights abuses.

Solidarity groups in New Zealand hosted a live presentation on June 28 from the Philippines with Congressman Carlos Zarate speaking on the new draconian law. He is a member of the Bayan Muna Progressive Party which is organising opposition to the law.

Zarate believes the Anti-Terror Bill should really be called the New Terror Bill. At a time when people need public health measures like testing for Covid, contract tracing, and financial assistance during the lockdown, Duterte is instead railroading through more repression.

The Philippines has a Constitution and a Bill of Rights which was won through mass democratic struggles. The new terror bill violates the Constitution and does away with existing minimal safeguards.

The law has a vague and very broad definition of ‘terrorism’, and can encompass government critics and protests movements. It does away with due process and allows for warrantless surveillance to be extended from three days to 60 days. People can be arrested without warrant, and can then be held in detention for up to 24 days without charges. The state forces can simply allege there is an “intention to cause harm” for an arrest to be lawful, and a penalty of life imprisonment can be imposed even if no attack has taken place.

Once arrested if bail is granted the right to travel is suspended to within the municipality where the charge has been filed. Zarate said the concern is that people may be charged miles away from their own homes, and they will essentially be placed incommunicado in that location for the duration of the time their case is pending, which could be years. If the Anti Terror Council designates someone a terrorist the finding is final, their assets will be frozen, and life imprisonment imposed.

It is clear that Duterte wants to prolong power, and this law is a new weapon for the suppression of the rights of workers, farmers, unionists, media, and marginalised people. In the past the people’s movement in the Philippines was able to repeal a similar law – the Anti-Subversion Law of the former dictator Marcos – through mass mobilisations. The Bayan Muna party will file a bill to repeal this new terror law and a mass campaign to Junk the Bill is being mobilised.

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