A GROUP of American lawmakers is urging the Philippine government to repeal the controversial Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 which is now the subject of nine petitions before the Supreme Court questioning its constitutionality.
“I, along with my 45 colleagues sent a letter this morning to the Philippine government. We sent it to the ambassador of the Philippines to the United States calling for the immediate repeal of this law,” Illinois Rep. Janice Janice Schakowsky, said in a virtual forum Wednesday night.
She said the law could be used by the Duterte administration as another tool in its efforts to suppress dissent and to target human rights groups and civil society organizations.
“We fear it will be used against anyone who protests against the Philippine government whether it be against abuse in the delay of distribution of COVID-19 aid or any other grievance because the President has shown he is intolerant of any and all dissent,” Schakowsky said.
“This law is also overbroad and we believe its already being used to stifle peaceful dissent and target civil society including human and labor rights groups in the Philippines,” she added.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque told the American lawmakers that the Philippines is an independent, sovereign state that has a functioning judicial system, and not a colony of the United States.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III the 45 US lawmakers must have been misinformed about the Anti-Terror Act of 2020 which he said is less harsh compared to the anti-terrorism laws in the US and other countries.
“Mind your own business… I can say they are misinformed. Tignan nila anti-terror law nila bago sila mamintas sa atin. Tignan muna nila yung kanila, napakahigpit nung sa kanila (They should take a look first at their own anti-terror law before they criticize ours. Their anti-terror law is very strict [compared to ours]),” Sotto said.
In the forum on Wednesday night, California Rep. Judy Chu, chair of the Congressional Asia Pacific American Caucus, said that the Anti-Terrorism Act is a threat to democracy and human rights in the Philippines.
“This legislation is not about terrorism; it’s about silencing dissent. The true target of this law are advocates for human rights, the environment, workers and indigenous communities,” Chu said.
“We see the ongoing attacks against any who dare to speak out against the targeted violence and trampling of rights,” she added.
Chu also cited the case against online media outfit Rappler as part of the alleged pattern to silence those who dared speak out against the Philippine government.
Former Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares, who participated in the forum, said,
“The anti-terror law is really causing a lot of fear in the Filipino people today. Your call for the voiding of the anti-terror law is very important to the Filipino people.”
Malacañang has been saying there are enough safeguards in the law to prevent abuses. Duterte has also said those who are not terrorists have nothing to fear.
The ninth petition was filed yesterday by labor groups led by the Federation of Free Workers which also asked the court to issue a temporary restraining order.
The petition sought the scrapping of Section 4 (which defines terrorism), 5 (penalizes those who threaten to commit terrorism), 6 (penalizes preparatory acts in the commission of terrorism), 9 (speech and other representations that seek to incite terrorism), 10, 11 and 12 (recruitment and membership in a terrorist organization), 25 (delegation on authority to the Anti-Terrorism Council), and 29 (warrantless arrest and detention).
They said those provisions violate the right to due process; seek to delegate legislative authority to the Anti-Terrorism Council) whose members are officials of the Executive Branch; and violate the due process clause as well as the right of an individual against unreasonable searches by allowing detention without court-issued warrant.
Joining the petition are the Trade Union Leaders of the Nagkakaisa Labor Coalition, Kilusang Mayo Uno, Trade Union Leaders of the Uni-Global Union-Philippine Liaison Council, Kilusang Artikulo Trese, Public Services Labor Independent Confederation, National Union of Workers in Hotel, Restaurant and Allied Industry, National Federation of Labor, and the Workers Resistance Against Tyranny.
Earlier, the SC ordered the consolidation of the eight petitions against Republic Act No. 11479.
The first four petitions were filed by a group of lawyers led by Howard Calleja, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, FEU law professors led by Mel Sta. Maria and progressive lawmakers belonging to the Makabayan bloc. They were followed by former Government Corporate Counsel Rudolf Philip Jurado, Constitution framers Christian Monsod and Felicitas Arroyo along with law professors from Ateneo de Manila and Xavier universities, the labor groups Center for Trade Union and Human Rights and the Pro-Labor Legal Assistance Center, and party-list group Sanlakas. — With Jocelyn Montemayor and Raymond Africa