Local journalists want protection amid hearing of Anti-Terror Law arguments

ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 04 2021 06:34 AM

Local journalists want protection amid hearing of Anti-Terror Law arguments 1
Members of the Photojournalists' Center of the Philippines staged a light painting protest in front of the ABS-CBN Broadcasting Center on Sunday on the eve of the fifth State of the Nation Address of President Rodrigo Duterte. Fernando G. Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA—Philippine journalists on Monday demanded government to protect their rights and safety amid the ongoing oral arguments on the Anti-Terrorism Law.

At least 17 media organizations and 78 journalists signed a statement joining other petitions challenging the validity of the Anti-Terrorism Act, which could lead to human rights violations due to its provisions.

"Section 9 of the ATA proscribes speech, proclamations, writings, emblems, and banners that fall under the new crime of 'inciting to terrorism,' imposing a penalty of 12 years in prison," the statement read.

"As the law fails to provide a clear definition of terrorism and is vague about what constitutes acts of terrorism, Section 9 could make media practitioners vulnerable to wrongful charges and arrests, producing a chilling effect on all media practice."

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who sponsored the Anti-Terror bill at the Senate, and other officials have repeatedly defended the measure, which critics said could be used to tag government critics as terrorists.

Lacson said the bill has "enough safeguards against abuse," including a 10-year jail term and perpetual disqualification from public service for law enforcers violating the rights of suspected terrorists.

But Philippine media said the protection clauses "fly in the face" of news organizations and journalists who have been red-tagged and branded as “terrorists” by government officials.

"With the government’s anti-insurgency campaign causing a rise in killings of activists, we fear for the safety of our colleagues," the statement read.

"We call on the government to uphold the freedom of the press. We demand that the rights and safety of journalists and media houses be respected and protected at all time."

Last month, the Supreme Court resumed hearing the oral arguments on the Anti-Terrorism Law through videoconferencing, 2 weeks after the strictest lockdown in the NCR Plus bubble was lifted. 

At least 37 petitions have been filed against the law by various groups.

Concerns over press freedom in the Philippines increased after government ordered ABS-CBN, the country's largest broadcasting network, to close its TV and radio operations in May 2020 when its franchise expired. Congress refused to renew its franchise.

Prior to the shutdown, Duterte had threatened that he would not allow ABS-CBN's franchise to be renewed.

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