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.  

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