"Dark days are ahead for human rights."
We were not surprised at all that the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 was signed by President Rodrigo Duterte recently.
News reports indicated that the measure would have lapsed into law 30 days anyway after it was submitted by Congress to Malacañang last month. Hence, Duterte's signature on the document days before it would have automatically become part of the law of the land was not unexpected as he had certified the bill to Congress as urgent.
We're not clear on whether the proposed bill was really sent to the Department of Justice, or to the Palace legal team, presumably led by the former presidential spokesman and still Chief Presidential Legal Counsel, for review. News reports did not clarify which of the two supposed revised versions were signed, or if the version sent by Congress to Duterte's desk was the one finally signed by him.
Be that as it may, what is clear at this point is that Duterte completely ignored popular clamor for him to junk the measure, or at least to veto certain objectionable provisions deemed unconstitutional.
As of now, there are at least six groups asking the Supreme Court to issue a temporary restraining order on the implementation of the new law for being unconstitutional.
We will not be surprised either if the Supreme Court finds the four petitions without any merit and throws them in the waste basket. You can really guess why.
An interesting development on this issue is that even officials of the newly created Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) urged Duterte to veto the bill.
They were the only government officials who dared to ask Duterte to veto the bill. But he chose to spurn their call or and did not offer them any concession.
Now, the same BARMM officials are asking Malacañang to at least give them a seat in the Anti-Terrorism Council, composed of officials in the Executive branch, who have the power to decide who should be charged as terrorists, subjected to warrantless arrests, detained for no less than 24 days, and spend at least 12 years in prison for even just inciting or aiding and abetting terrorism.
But that would require an amendment of the new law, which could take time.
Meanwhile, BARMM officials can expect that their constituents would merit more than passing interest from military and police intelligence operatives.
Bangsamoro Chief Minister Ahod Ebrahim, the former chair of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the separatist group that signed a peace deal with the government that paved the way for the creation of BARMM, had earlier warned that with the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Law, “incidents of violations of human rights will be on the rise and the Bangsamoro people, easily labeled as terrorists would again be subject to discrimination and abuse."
Ebrahim said further: "It is my moral duty to speak out to ensure the measures intended to address terrorism will not be used as a means to subvert the fundamental rights and freedom of individuals in general, and normalize abuse and discrimination against the Bangsamoro, in particular.” He is absolutely right in saying this.
Other critics of the Anti-Terrorism Act, among them three former justices of the Supreme Court, two opposition senators, members of the Makabayan bloc of party-list representatives in the House of Representatives, the Commission on Human Rights, business groups, lawyers, labor federations, and even show business celebrities, apart from the UN Commission on Human Rights and international human rights groups, had raised concerns over provisions of the law that they said could lead to a diminution of the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution, such as freedom of speech and expression, and the right to peaceably assemble and air grievances.
Among the provisions everyone has cited as unconstitutional are those allowing warrantless arrests outside limitations allowed by the Rules of Court; allowing wiretapping without a court order; detaining suspects for up to 24 days without charges or commitment orders from courts; and designation of persons or groups as terrorists by an Anti-Terrorism Council consisting of Duterte alter-egos and not expected to contradict whatever their boss tells them to.
The Senate version of the controversial bill had been the one hurriedly passed by the House of Representatives in its entirety and it now appears, also approved in toto by Duterte.
In short, Duterte totally ignored the issues raised by various sectors, and now opens the floodgates for the State to bear down hard on whoever gets in the way of his administration's three-pronged war on terror, illegal drugs, and political dissent.
We see this as a big step backward for Philippine democracy, and dark days ahead for human rights, due process and the rule of law in this benighted nation.