Philippines: Human Rights Activists, Journalists Protest Anti-Terror Law

Women in Action, August 2007 | Go to article overview

Philippines: Human Rights Activists, Journalists Protest Anti-Terror Law


Hundreds of human rights and peace advocates join protests of the enactment of the Human Security Act of 2007 or simply called the Anti-Terror Law in the Philippines on July 15, 2007. Demonstrations took place in various parts of the country as well as in other parts of the world including Australia, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan.

Renato Reyes, Jr., secretary-general of the progressive organisation Bayan, said that "The law violates due process because of warrantless arrests, prolonged detention without charges, and it gives too much power to the Anti-Terror Council," that will have the sole authority in identifying who the so-called "terrorists" are.

The new law, passed by the Philippine Congress in February and signed by President Gloria Arroyo in March, took effect on July 15.

While the government vows that this law would be used to counter terrorists and militants, protesters fear that it would be used to suppress dissent against the present administration.

The law loosely defines terrorism as a criminal act that "causes widespread and extraordinary fear and panic among the populace."

This "vague language of the Human Security Act invites the government to misuse it," said Joanne Mariner, terrorism and counterterrorism director at Human Rights Watch, an international organisation dedicated to protecting the human rights.

Under the law, terrorism is punishable by 40 years imprisonment without parole. A person accused of the crime but is later acquitted is entitled to Php500,000 ($10, 000) in damages for every day that the person was detained.

A petition will be filed in the country's Supreme Court to question the constitutionality of the law as well as to seek a temporary restraining order on its implementation.

"The terror law is the single biggest threat to our basic freedoms and civil liberties. We hope the high court can help the people defeat this terrible legal monstrosity," Reyes said.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Threatening press freedom

Although Section 7 of the law clearly states that "surveillance, interception, and recording of communications between... journalists and their sources" will not be permitted, a statement from the country's top justice ministry official saying that in certain circumstances, the government would be allowed to wiretap journalists, caused journalists to fear that freedom of expression may be threatened under the new law.

Philippine Justice Secretary Paul Gonzalez, in an interview with the Inquirer, said "You cannot wiretap [journalists]. "Their interviews and sources are sacred," but adds, "of course, unless there is sufficient basis or if they are being suspected of co-mingling with terror suspects."

Under the law, those labelled "terrorist" as well as the accomplices and accessories to terrorism will face charges. …

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