Expanding the definition of terrorism . . .
The Philippine House of Representatives passed today the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 with an overwhelming majority vote, bringing it one step closer to being signed into law. The Act will replace an existing law, the 2007 Human Security Act, and expand the definition of terrorism and the powers of the executive branch to tackle it. Among its most controversial provisions are the ability to detain suspected terrorists for 14 days, exempting law enforcement from abiding by the 12-to-36-hour limit to deliver detainees to judicial authorities outlined in the Penal Code, and the creation of the Anti-Terrorism Council comprising cabinet members that can authorize arrests of alleged terrorists. The bill is expected to be signed into law soon, as the Senate passed a similar version of the law in February to fast-track its approval.
Concern over targeting of activists . . .
Critics of the bill, including activist groups, church leaders, and politicians, have argued that it curtails civil liberties and could be prone to abuse. Under the new Act, ‘terrorism’ would refer to conducting or planning acts that cause bodily harm and damage property, with the purpose of undermining public safety and/or provoking the government, among other things. Pundits like human rights lawyer Jose Manuel Diokno have argued that such a broad definition could be used to target activists and critics of President Duterte’s administration. Many Filipinos both in the Philippines and abroad have protested against the bill using the hashtag, #JunkTerrorBill.
As Philippines moves toward relaxed lockdown . . .
The passage of the Anti-Terrorism Act comes as parts of the Philippines shift toward a general community quarantine (GCQ), a relaxed version of earlier COVID-19 lockdown measures. The GCQ will slowly increase public transportation capacity in Metro Manila and allow residents between the ages of 22 and 59 in designated areas increased mobility. As the country continues to see more coronavirus cases, some, like Vice-President Leni Robredo, have questioned the focus on passing an anti-terrorism bill over efforts to combat the pandemic.