By Marivir R. Montebon
New York – The commemoration of the 122nd Philippine Independence Day on June 12, 2020 as the first Republic in Asia comes in as ironic with the impending signing into law of the Anti-Terrorism Act, seen by international human rights groups as the way to legalize Pres. Duterte’s authoritarian rule.
Filipino human rights activists here have slated digital rallies to oppose the law which the United Nations Commission on Human Rights described as “worrying.”
In a 26-page report of the human rights situation in the Philippines, the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights reads: “the proposed 2020 Anti-Terrorism Act, slated to replace the already problematic Human Security Act, dilutes the human rights safeguards, broadens the definition of terrorism and expands the period of detention without warrant from three days to 14 days, extendable by another 10 days. The vague definitions in the Anti-Terrorism Act may violate the principle of legality.”
The UN Human Rights Council released the report on June 4, 2020 which was based on information collected by the Office of the Higher Commissioner for Human Rights from 893 written submissions and included several exchanges and dialogues with representatives of the Philippine government.
The report noted that the Philippines did not lack any emergency measures to curb criminality. There are, for instance, the 2012 Cyber Crime Protection Act, the 2018 Republic Act 10973 (known as the subpoena powers law) and laws on sedition.
Duterte had imposed Martial Law across Mindanao after the Muslim city of Marawi was besieged by ISIL-affiliated armed groups.
The UNCHR Report expressed that the long-standing overemphasis on public order and national security has been at the expense of human rights which have become more acute in recent years. It concluded that the “vilification of dissent has become institutionalized and normalized in ways that will be very difficult to reverse.”
So what is the Anti-Terrorism Act for, in the time of a global pandemic and in the face of worsening poverty situation?
For Ago Pedalizo, California-based human rights activist of the Filipino-American Human Rights Alliance (FAHRA), “the bill has no legitimate basis at all and reinforces another desperate attempt by Duterte to perpetrate and even enhance his grip on power amid the pandemic and China’s onslaught of the West Philippine Sea.”
FAHRA, in a public statement, accused Duterte of being a “puppet of China” who will use the Anti-Terror Bill to cripple and terrorize opposition to it.
“Today, we are struggling for our national independence. Another threat from China is present and the internal threat from a dictator that will place the Philippines under a de facto martial law is present. But we will fight these threats and we shall be free.
China controls our nation thru Duterte who would not implement the Hague ruling, who let China grab seven islands on the West Philippine Sea and fortify them as its missile bases, declare them as their province and claim the Philippines including the Benham Rise under China’s 9-dash-line,” said the FAHRA statement.
FAHRA accused China of using the Philippine debt in exchange for its control over the West Philippine Sea, telecommunications business, and oil resources.
The Philippines became a Republic on June 12, 1898 with Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo as president. It was a short-lived democracy, as six months later, Spain ceded the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam to the US through the Treaty of Paris. Hence, the Philippines became a US colony in December 1898.
The Philippines was under direct American rule until its independence on July 4, 1946. Economic and cultural ties with the US persisted since then, through the presence of US military bases in the Philippines and laws such as the Philippine Parity Rights Agreement, earning the Philippines the repute as an ally and a neo-colony of the US.
FAHRA’s Art Garcia had said that under Duterte, the Philippines is fast becoming a province of China. “It is almost like a hand-over. We are opposing that,” he said. # (Featured photo by ABSCBN)