by: Team GenZone and Team News Left Behind

On July 3, 2020, Philippine President Rodrigo Duerte signed into law one of the most controversial acts of its time. The Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, described by Duerte, aims to eradicate terrorism in the Philippines. However, upon looking deeper beyond the name of this new law, which replaces the Human Security Act of 2007, this act not only infringes on the human rights of the country’s citizens but also adds to the government’s existing history of human rights violations.

The Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020  describes terrorism as “Releasing dangerous substances or causing fire, floods or explosions when the purpose is to intimidate the general public, create an atmosphere to spread a message of fear, provoke or influence by intimidation the government or any international organization, seriously destabilize or destroy the fundamental political, economic, or social structures in the country, or create a public emergency or seriously undermine public safety.” A 12 year sentence can be carried out for those who willingly commit acts of terrorism or are involved with terorrist groups and organizations.

However, the definition of ‘terrorism’ described by the act makes identifying those who act against it more difficult. This law does not define ‘terrorism’ in clear terms, making it extremely difficult to discern who is committing an act of terrorism or not. The law broadens the definition of ‘terrorism’ to include “speeches, writings, proclamations, emblems, banners, and other representations” that entice others. This has caught the attention of several human rights groups and lawyers as the law proposes limitations to various civil liberties including the freedom of association, expression, speech, and the press.

This UN report highlights several instances, dating back to 2015, where the government has violated human rights and freedoms of expression in the country. OHCHR verified the killings of 208 human rights defenders, journalists, and trade unionists between January 2015 and December 2019.  A director at Human Rights Watch, Phil Robertson, explains that “The law will open the door to arbitrary arrests and long prison sentences for people or representatives of organizations that have displeased the president.”

The law seeks to blindly criminalise any and all persons that offer “material support” to any act that the state deems an act of terrorism.To a third person, however, this looks like a futile attempt at prosecuting both political opponents and human rights advocates.

Particularly in the context of COVID-19, with the recent spike in cases and lack of government action, the Philippines continues to see an intense state of economic and political affairs.

This unconstitutional state-driven initiative can not only instill the minds of the people with fear of their own government, but also hinder and impede the peacebuilding efforts made by authorities and activists thus far. The need for restabilization and restitution of human rights boundaries is now, more than ever. As activism and advocacy for human rights paves the way for peacebuilding, we must give a platform to youthful, passionate voices that strive to bring about change- voices that ring with sincerity, conviction, and a sense of solidarity.

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