Business groups on Friday slammed the approval of House Bill 6875 by the House of Representatives and a similar bill approved by the Senate in February 2020 against terrorism.
They were the Bishops-Businessmen’s Conference for Human Development, Information Technology and Business Process Association of the Philippines, Investment House Association of the Philippines, Judicial Reform Initiative, Management Association of the Philippines, Makati Business Club, Philippine Business for Education and Subdivision, and Housing Developers Association Inc.
They say they find the bill unnecessary particularly following the global crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In these trying times of the COVID-19 pandemic, what we need is national unity. We are all suffering and fighting for survival: businesses are closing down, people are losing their jobs, those who still have jobs find it impossible to find safe transportation to work, our children are going hungry and the continuity of their education is under threat,” the groups said in a statement.
“We need to come together, united around a set of relief and recovery measures that will help us come out of this pandemic a stronger and more resilient nation.”
The business groups say they find the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 as highly divisive, arguing it poses a clear and present danger to human rights at a time the nation needs to come together as one.
“We strongly urge our national leaders and the private sector to be focused fully at this time on what really matters, developing policies that will address multiple socio-economic shocks resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, strengthening our health systems, improving the investment climate to create more jobs especially given many thousands of returning Filipino workers. These are what our country needs to pull us out of our crisis and get back on our feet,” the groups said in their statement.
Human Rights Watch also slammed the anti-terrorism bill that President Rodrigo Duterte is expected to sign into law.
“The Philippine government is on the verge of enacting a counterterrorism law that will eliminate critical legal protections and permit government overreach against groups and individuals labeled terrorists,” Human Rights Watch said Friday.
“The Anti-Terrorism Act is a human rights disaster in the making,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
“The law will open the door to arbitrary arrests and long prison sentences for people or representatives of organizations that have displeased the President.”
The draft law creates a new Anti-Terrorism Council consisting of members appointed by the executive. It would permit the authorities to arrest people it designates as “terrorists” without a judicial warrant and to detain them without charge for up to 24 days before they must be presented before a judicial authority.
Under existing laws, terrorism suspects must be brought before a judge in three days. Human Rights Watch believes that anyone taken into custody should appear before a judge within 48 hours.
Under the draft law, those convicted on the basis of overbroad definitions of “terrorism” face up to life in prison without parole. An individual, as well as a group, commits terrorism when he or she “engages in acts intended to cause death or serious bodily injury to any person, or endangers a person’s life,” or “causes extensive damage to public property” in order to “create an atmosphere or spread a message of fear.”
While the definition also includes aims often associated with terrorism, such as seeking to “seriously destabilize or destroy the fundamental social, economic or political structures of the country,” it does not require such intent. By this broad definition, starting a fight in a bar could technically be classified as an act of terrorism, Human Rights Watch said.
The draft law also makes it a criminal offense to “incite others” to commit terrorism “by means of speeches, proclamations, writings, emblems, banners or other representations tending to the same end.” The law, which does not define incitement, poses a danger to freedom of the media and freedom of expression by providing an open-ended basis for prosecuting speech. The Anti-Terrorism Council would be the sole arbiter to determine whether a threat should be considered serious. Those convicted would face up to 12 years in prison.
The Association for the Rights of Children in Southeast Asia also slammed the Anti-Terror Bill.
Joevie Dela Cruz, deputy executive director of ARCSEA, says the bill is an attack against civil liberties and the right to petition the government for redress of grievances—both important elements of democracy.
He says it will inevitably lead to more human rights violations where children are not spared. Even without such law, children have already been victims of killings, arbitrary arrests and harassments. Many children and minors have also fallen victims to harassment and abuse by police and local government officials in the imposition of community quarantine to address the COVID-19 crisis.
“Ruling by terror is not an example that we want our children to emulate. We need leaders who will rule to unite and not to divide, with more compassion and not with an iron hand, especially in these times of crisis. Filipino children need to see and experience democracy in order to fully exercise their rights. Children will be denied all these with the passage of the Anti-Terror Bill.
“ARCSEA urges the public to lend their voices to preserve what is left of the democratic space that we have. Let democracy flourish, let our dissenting voices bloom! Our children deserve a better future.”