(June 3, 2020) – The lower house of Congress on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed a controversial new anti-terrorism measure despite much objection from human rights groups warning that it may be used to stifle dissent in the country.
Voting 173-31 with 29 abstentions, the draconian measure passed on third and final reading, moving a step closer to the President Rodrigo Duterte’s desk for signature into law.
The bill seeks to repeal the outdated 2007 Human Security Act that would give state forces the power to conduct surveillance and make warrantless arrests on suspected terrorists.
Under the proposed law, persons who conspire, incite and recruit others into joining terrorist groups may face life imprisonment without parole.
The version passed in the House of Representatives actually mirrored the Senate’s version of the bill which was passed in the upper chamber in February by an overwhelming majority, with only two senators voting against.
The swift approval comes after the popular leader certified the bill as urgent, with both chambers set to adjourn by June 5. Duterte and his allies hold a supermajority in the House.
But the bill was opposed by human rights advocates and lawyers who say the measure would only weaken safeguards against abuse committed by the military and police.
Opposition leader, Vice President Leni Robredo, was the latest to air her objection to the measure, questioning the timing for hearing its passage as the country grapples a public health crisis due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Terorismo ba talaga ang tuon ng Terror Bill? O gusto lang nitong bigyan ng kapangyarihan ang estado para bansagang terorista ang kung sino man ang kanilang gusto?” Robredo said.
She also warned of serious consequences of putting much power “in the hands of people who have no qualms about using disinformation, inventing evidence, or finding the smallest of pretexts to silence its critics.”
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, an ex-army general and former armed forces chief, hit critics of the measure, saying the bill only aims to keep the country out from the threat of terrorism.
“The insinuation that Congress will enact a law to directly disregard the Filipinos’ human rights is preposterous,” he said.
Año’s remarks echoes that of other members of the security cluster of Duterte’s Cabinet, including Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who is also an ex-army general. (Christian de Lano Deiparine/MM)
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