By Manny Mogato, News5 editor-at-large
(July 4, 2020) — A New York-based human rights group has expressed concerns over President Rodrigo Duterte’s signing of a draconian anti-terrorism bill, saying it has pushed democracy in the country “into an abyss”.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said the anti-terrorism law threatened the human rights situation in the Philippines, which has nosedived since Duterte’s war on drugs began four years ago.
He called on foreign governments to denounce publicly Duterte’s move to implement the anti-terrorism law, which it described as tantamount to “a stealth declaration of martial law”.
“The Anti-Terrorism Law will give a green light to the systematic targeting of political critics and opponents, as well as ordinary Filipinos who dare to speak out,” Robertson said in a statement.
He said the Human Rights Watch was concerned by provisions that permit warrantless arrests and weeks of incommunicado detention, which facilitates torture and mistreatment.
“The law threatens increased “red tagging” of activists, journalists, and social media users, with dire effects for freedom of expression,” he added.
The law will not take effect until it was published in a newspaper or in the government’s official gazette. It was signed hours before the president flew to a military Air Force base in the south to talk to soldiers in an effort to defuse rising tension between the army and the police after the killing of four intelligence agents early this week.
The soldiers were hot on a trail of two suspected suicide bombers of the pro-Islamic State militant group Abu Sayyaf on Jolo town on Monday when they were shot without provocation by nine local police officers.
A government spokesman, Harry Roque, said the president has approved the bill enacted by both chambers of Congress without any veto.
Human rights group, law practitioners, journalists, business groups and activists had called on the president to reject the bill because it would violate the 1987 constitution.
Muslim leaders suspended session in the south to oppose the bill as well as international organizations, like the United Nations tried to stop the president from signing it into law but Duterte ignored all off them.
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