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Militant OFWs blast Duterte’s Anti-Terror Law and red-tagging of critics

04 June 2020

By Vir B. Lumicao
 Eman Villanueva of Bayan HK & Macau shows his sentiment toward the Anti-Terror Bill 
Militant Filipino migrant workers in Hong Kong blasted today, Jun 4, the new Anti-Terror Act of 2020, questioning the haste which the Lower House passed the measure yesterday, while other bills addressing more pressing issues remain pending.

United Filipinos in Hong Kong chair Dolores Balladares said overseas Filipino workers  are angry over the railroading of the bill, especially amid the continuous spread of the coronavirus.

“In this time of global pandemic, with Filipinos anxious over family and friends getting sick or dying or their OFW family members unable to come home, the…government deemed it necessary to push this bill,” Balladares said in a press release.

The Anti-Terrorism Act is awaiting President Rodrigo Duterte’s signature after it was passed by the House of Representatives on Jun 3, as human rights advocates vow to challenge its “unconstitutional” provisions before the Supreme Court.

The legislation passed the Lower House by a vote of 173-31 with 29 abstentions. It gives the Duterte administration sweeping powers, including making arrests without warrants and holding suspects without charge for a longer period,.

As the approved version is copied exactly from the Senate’s version which the upper chamber passed in February, Duterte can sign it any time, lawmakers said.

On Monday, the President certified the bill as “urgent” and called for its passage before lawmakers go on a two-month break from Jun 6.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said today, however, that there will still be a bicameral conference between the two houses of Congress on Monday, Jun 8, before the bill is passed on to Duterte.

Edre Olalia, president of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, said his group would challenge the bill’s “constitutionality” before the Supreme Court. He said the draconian measure stripped Filipinos of freedom of speech and association.

Retired senior associate justice Antonio Carpio said the Supreme Court in some cases would require an actual injury to happen before laws are challenged before them, but the Anti-Terror Law can be challenged “on its face” or right away.

“Facial challenge is allowed because the law touches on fundamental constitutional rights, like the right against arrests without court warrants, and provides penalties for its violation,” Carpio was quoted by Rappler as saying today, June 4.

The Supreme Court in 2013 junked a petition questioning the constitutionality of the 2007 Human Security Act, partly because the Court said that the possibility of abuse was merely speculative, thus ruling that a facial challenge was not allowed.

Carpio said the 2020 Anti-Terror Law’s new provisions are different in that facial challenge is now allowed.

Opposition lawmakers proposed changes to address “unconstitutional provisions” in the bill, but the pro-Duterte House leadership refused them at the second reading on Tuesday.

Jericho Nograles, from Puwersa ng Bayaning Atleta, a leading sponsor of the bill, said he had instructions from House public order committee chair, Masbate Rep. Narciso Bravo Jr, “to pass the bill without amendments.”

Quezon City Rep. Jesus Suntay, House human rights panel chair, cited several provisions that he said were “in violation of the Bill of Rights,” including Section 29, which allows warrantless arrests.

Another provision he cited extends the number of days a suspect can be detained without a warrant from three days to 14 days, extendable by another 10 days.

Vice President Leni Robredo questioned the bill’s intent and timing, saying some of its provisions may be used to crack down further on dissent and gag free speech but doesn’t address the nation’s more pressing needs amid the pandemic.

Robredo, a lawyer, said several provisions focus on expanding the definition of a terrorist and reducing checks and balances against wrongful arrest, which “cause a lot of fear.”

“Especially in the hands of people who have no qualms about using disinformation, inventing evidence, or finding the smallest of pretexts to silence its critics – this power is very dangerous,” she said.

Commission on Human Rights spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia said prolonged detention of suspects without a warrant “may result [in] cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or torture.”

Amnesty International Philip­pines said the new law “disproportionately restricts human rights in the name of security.”

The Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights said it was “extremely concerning” that, as it, the Anti-Terror Law could be “weaponized” by the administration.

But Senate President Vicente Sotto III assured critics that the bill “has more than enough safeguards” against abuses.

Roque, on the other hand, dismissed “unfounded fear” that administration critics would be Red-tagged and police would abuse their power to arrest supporters of civil organizations.
Some militant groups active in HK have been red-tagged by officials close to Malacanang
This was, however, disputed by Unifil-Migrante-HK, which condemned the red-tagging of Migrante International and other militant organizations like Bayan, Gabriela and Anakpawis.

The groups have been tagged as terrorists by the government arm, National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, or NTF-ELCAC, even when they have elected representatives in Congress.

Balladares warned that a simple criticism of President Rodrigo Duterte could result in  one being arrested under the proposed new law.

“Imagine, just posting your criticism of the government on social media can make you punishable by law. It is clear Duterte has no need for citizens who can think critically,” Balladares said.

“What he wants is a society of mindless sheep so that his government can carry on with corruption and favoring oligarchs, his local cronies and foreign masters over his own people,” she added.

Balladares called for the junking of the anti-terror bill which she said “has no place in a Filipino society that loves democracy.”

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