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Be Careful With What You Say About The President: The Philippines’ New Terror Bill

What is the Anti-Terrorism Act? 

In early 2020, the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 was introduced in the Philippines as a replacement to the 2007 Human Security Act. The Act includes a broad definition of terrorism, including acts “to provoke or influence by intimidation the government or any of its international organization… or seriously undermine public safety…” It also includes dissent under the conditions that “it creates a serious risk to public safety.” Aside from the broadened definition of terrorism, human rights groups foresee issues due to the Act creating an Anti-Terrorism Council made up of members selected by the president who can call in specific people for questioning at their discretion.  

Furthermore, the 2007 Act required authorities to take suspected terrorists to a judicial official within 3 days of their apprehension but, this new law gives authorities the ability to hold suspected terrorists for up to 24 days before obtaining a warrant for their arrest. Another important change from the 2007 Act is the lack of reparations for anyone who is falsely detained upon their acquittal. According to Menardo Guevarra, President Duterte’s Justice Secretary, the costly damages for false arrests deterred prosecution under the 2007 Act. Different components of the Act remove safeguards provided by the judicial system.  

Why are People Worried if They are not Criminals? 

The prevailing fear from opponents of the Act is the uninhibited expansion of government powers. In 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte entered his office with the promise of conducting a “War on Drugs” and killing off 100,000 criminals in his first year of office. He did not fulfill his promise to kill such a high number of criminals, but the Philippines is now the focus of United Nations investigations into the extrajudicial killings of drug war victims. Despite international scrutiny of his administration, President Duterte continues to support the lack of police accountability and labeling of human rights groups as terrorist organizations. In September 2019, he publicly warned drug users, “Even with the United Nations listening, I will kill you, period.” This Act could facilitate the many threats President Duterte has given to both suspected drug users and his dissenters. 

Many have viewed Duterte’s zeal for the bill as a push to limit the human rights of all Filipinos in opposition to the current administration and legitimate the arrests of media members who have published reports against the administration. Just this year, Duterte supported the shutdown of ABS-CBN, one of the country’s major networks, by having his government’s telecommunication agency promptly request that they close after Congress refused to renew their broadcast franchise. Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo, who is not a member of Duterte’s political party, vocally opposes Duterte’s War on Drugs. She questioned the motives of the Act asking, “is terrorism really the focus of the Terror Bill? Or is it just interested in giving the state the powers to call anyone a terrorist?” Her question is of importance since the Act would allow the Duterte administration to target activists who are speaking up against the extrajudicial killings of the state once they lead protests which can be seen as “influencing the government by intimidation.” Additionally, the government has made use of Facebook and Twitter rants as evidence to charge teachers with inciting to sedition during the Coronavirus pandemic. 

#JunkTerrorBillNow Protests 

While Americans focused on Black Lives Matter protests, Filipinos found themselves on the streets to protest the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020. The bill spawned heavy opposition from human rights groups, celebrities, and civilians who created petitions and organized opposition to the bill. Even Taylor Swift, an American pop star and critic of U.S. President Donald Trump, posted an Instagram story urging her followers to educate themselves on the fight against the bill with links to different petitions and ways to donate. The rallying call of protests was “aktibista, hindi terorista” (“I am an activist, not a terrorist”) to highlight the main issue with the bill. Despite dissent from around the world, President Duterte signed it into law on 3 July 2020. 

 

Vanessa Real Williams is from Angeles City, Philippines majoring in Public Policy with a Human Rights Certificate.  

Duterte

Law and Order: The Philippine War on Drugs

Summary: In the year and a half since Rodrigo Duterte became president of the Philippines, thousands of Filipinos have died as a result of his extreme anti-drug policies.   

On June 30th 2016, Rodrigo Duterte assumed office as the 16th president of the Philippines.  He was elected by a landslide, with nearly twice the votes of the runner-up.  During his campaign, Duterte came under fire for everything from expletive-laden speeches in which he compared himself to Hitler to calling his own daughter a “drama queen” after she said she had been raped, yet it was his drug policy that drew the most attention.  In one speech, Duterte famously claimed, “There’s three million drug addicts.  I’d be happy to slaughter them.”

Even as mayor of Davao, Duterte was known for being tough on crime. He implemented armed civilian militias who were allowed to target anyone who posed a threat “to public order.”  The eradication of crime was a major cornerstone of Duterte’s presidential campaign, as he billed himself as the law and order candidate.

Death count estimates vary greatly, with some ranging as high as 13,000.  A series of high-profile deaths began to erode public confidence in Duterte.

In February 2017, a South Korean businessman was kidnapped and killed by the police, which led to Duterte temporarily suspending the anti-drug enforcement of the national police, but he later reversed this decision.

For the first year of his term, Duterte polled well with his constituents–but in August 2017 his popularity began to wane after police killed 96 people in Manila in what they called a “one-time, big time crackdown.  In particular, the death of 17-year-old Kian Loyd delos Santos attracted national attention when surveillance footage contradicted police testimony that delos Santos had resisted arrest.

The bad publicity prompted Duterte to again pull the police force off of drug crackdowns.  He decided that the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency would handle all cases moving forward.

Capital punishment was abolished in 2006, under President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, but in March 2017, the Philippine House of Representatives passed House Bill 4727, which reinstated the death penalty for drug offenses. These extra-judicial killings also violate sections 1, 12, and 14 of the Philippine Bill of Rights, all of which deal with due process.

When the EU, the UN, and the US condemned the ‘War on Drugs,’ Duterte accused the West of hypocrisy.  Although Duterte’s actions violate several instances of international law, he has received little concrete pushback from the international community, in large part due to his threats that he would turn to China or Russia if the Philippines faced any economic sanctions or loss of international aid.

This new stance on the death penalty violates the UN’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the Philippines signed and ratified.  Article 6 of the Covenant explicitly condemns the death penalty and goes on to state: “In countries which have not abolished the death penalty, sentence of death may be imposed only for the most serious crimes…”

The Filipino government released a statement immediately after the UN convened to discuss the drug war, claiming that there were no extra-judicial killings going on. “These are deaths arising from legitimate law enforcement operations or deaths that require further investigation following established rules of engagement by the country’s law enforcers.”

Duterte threatened to expel ambassadors from the European Union who he claimed were plotting to force the Philippines out of the UN, though he later walked back his comments after learning the group did not represent the EU in any official capacity.

UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein suggested that Duterte be investigated for murder, after the president said he had personally shot and killed three drug users when he was mayor.  In response, Duterte called al-Hussein an “idiot” and threatened to withdraw from the UN, the International Criminal Court, and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the US.

Through the EDCA, the US gained an advantageous military position in southeast Asia.  In return, the Philippines received humanitarian and military assistance.  Duterte’s threat of withdrawal accompanied a claim that he would rather buy arms from Russia and China.

US-Philippines relations have been rocky under Duterte.  President Obama canceled a trip to the Philippines to discuss the human rights situation there after Duterte disrespected him by degrading his daughter with a series of sexual expletives.  President Trump drew widespread criticism from human rights groups after he invited Duterte to the White House, although Duterte declined the invitation.  Trump will travel to the Philippines on November 12, as part of his tour of southeast Asia.

A presidential term in the Philippines lasts 6 years.  At 72, Duterte is already the oldest Philippine president ever.  The Philippine constitution limits presidents to one term only, but there is no way of knowing how many Filipinos will die before his successor takes office in 2022.