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[Y-SPACE] The law greatly expands the definition of terrorism

by Arianne Kyle Saturnino

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets after the nation passed an extradition law in June 2020 that penalized secession and subversion. President Duterte signed a law increasing crimes against terror in mid-2020 amid criticism that could use it to violate human rights and stifle dissent.

In an email, Maria Ela L. Atienza, a political science professor at the University of the Philippines, said, "The lockdown restrictions and arrests of violators in the Philippines may be a factor, but there were also non-lockdown related incidents last year."

Public outrage exploded as they hurried through the anti-terror bill amid a health crisis. As of August 7, 2020, the Supreme Court had issued 26 petitions seeking unconstitutional law. The bulk of the anti-terror law petitions echoed legal experts' assessments that the law's main provisions are ambiguous and likely to lead to a crackdown on the opposition rather than terrorists. They also pointed out that it scrapped protection against violence under the current legislation in the Human Protection Act of 2007.

These clauses, which we can find in Sections 4 and 5 of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, effectively broadened the definition of terrorism, were brought up by Ito. According to Ito, artists live not only to talk of "only positive things" but also to tell "what needs to be said." During the pandemic, Filipino rights activists and concerned people have been imaginative in expressing their displeasure. While Luzon was under lockdown, they coordinated a mañanita-inspired program as a nod to Metro Manila's top cop Major General Debold Sinas’ birthday celebration. Others took part in Zoom marches and Twitter protests. Apart from the anti-terror legislation, the demonstrations took place during and after congressional hearings on the extension of the ABS-CBN franchise and President Duterte's State of the Nation Speech.

Hundreds of petitions have been filed in the Philippines' Supreme Court to overturn President Rodrigo Duterte's latest anti-terrorism rule, allowing suspects to be in detention without charge for weeks. The government argues that the law is essential to tackle insurgencies and that it respects freedoms. "The Philippines remains committed to the protection of civil and political liberties as well as human rights," the Philippine Foreign Affairs Department wrote in a letter to representatives of the US Congress. On the other hand, human rights groups are concerned that the hard-line Duterte administration will use the law to prosecute political critics. The Philippine Catholic Church also compared the law to China's new national security law imposed on Hong Kong.

The legislation went into effect on Saturday, as officials were fighting the coronavirus and arresting those who broke the lockdown. According to human rights advocates, it comes after the widely chastised Duterte administration for using harsh methods against drug offenders and government opponents and violating civil liberties such as the freedom of the press. Here are some key takeaways from the debate around the Philippines' Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.

It encompasses a wide variety of offenses, including "actions designed to threaten a person's life," "destroy public property," and "interfere with vital infrastructure," all to intimidate the government. The National Union of People's Lawyers has asked the Supreme Court to strike down the legislation, arguing that it is too vague and effectively criminalizes intent. According to human rights activists, one recent crime, inciting to commit terrorism, is especially troublesome. According to the document, inciting others through "speeches, writings, proclamations, emblems, banners, and other symbols tending to the same end" could result in a 12-year prison sentence.

"It stifles freedom of expression. It suppresses free expression. It limits press freedom. It conceals freedom of speech and association, " Neri Colmenares, a prominent human rights lawyer who has filed a petition with the Supreme Court, agrees. However, the law specifies that activism, opposition, dissent, industrial action, and strikes are not illegal as long as they do not pose a "significant risk to public safety." "So who decides what a significant danger and what's not?" asks Aaron Sobel of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon defends the clause, telling NPR that "activism is not terrorism" under the statute. However, lawyer Colmenares claims that "terrorism" means "any opposition" to the Duterte administration.

The government of Rodrigo Duterte has a weak human rights record, which has sparked questions about the current anti-terrorism law. According to a United Nations report published in June, Duterte's drug war has killed at least 8,600 Filipinos since 2016, with "near-impunity."

The government recently shut down ABS-CBN and charged veteran journalist Maria Ressa, the CEO of the news website Rappler, with cyber libel, leading to her conviction. Both publications have been critical of Duterte's leadership.

Attorney Colmenares says anti-lockdown protesters and violators "are afraid" that putting more power in the hands of police and President Duterte would "triple or quadruple" the arrests. The new legislation replaces the Human Protection Act of 2007, which, according to security analyst Sidney Jones, was "one of the worst anti-terror laws ever passed since it had so many safeguards that it was never used or rarely used."

Previously, police paid a fine of $10,000 for each day they held a suspect unlawfully. But it is no longer the case under the new legislation. Analysts and human rights activists, on the other hand, are worried about Duterte's use of the current one.

According to Sobel of the Carnegie Endowment, countries like Egypt and Turkey have shown how populist regimes, like Duterte's, use anti-terrorism legislation to infringe on civil liberties and consolidate control. "The Philippines, in my view, is a prime example of this. "[Duterte's] firebrand style of speech helped him get elected, and he's been popular for a long time," says Sobel, "and he's used that to erode civilian checks and balances."

Arianne Kyle Saturnino is a 22-year-old Legal Management student from Colegio De San Juan de Letran.

YSPACE is a platform open for young writers to contribute their worth-sharing thoughts and stories to the world. It is a space for young people and by the young people which aims to promote a strong sense of empowerment and inspiration to young Filipinos.

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