MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte should veto an "ill-timed" anti-terrorism bill that could be used to "oppress" the public and instead prioritize response to the coronavirus pandemic, the heads of some of the country's biggest Catholic schools said Friday, adding to growing opposition to the measure.
The pandemic has stretched health systems and left millions jobless, said the academe leaders who included Ateneo de Manila University president Fr. Jose Ramon Villarin SJ and De La Salle University president Br. Raymundo Suplido FSC.
"While we acknowledge the need to fight terrorism, we find the passage of the bill ill-timed," they said in a statement. "At this time, our priorities should be shoring up our health system, providing support to our health workers, ensuring food for our communities, stimulating the economy and providing jobs for our people."
Duterte certified as urgent the bill that would authorize the government to wiretap suspects, arrest them without warrants and hold them without charge for at least 14 days, among other provisions.
The House of Representatives on Wednesday passed the bill on third and final reading, a similar version of which was passed by the Senate earlier this year.
Many of the proposed law's provisions "are couched in language that is sweeping and equivocal as to be easily subject to misinterpretation and abuse," said Villarin and Suplido's group.
"Instead of being a measure to protect our people, in the wrong hands, this bill can be used to oppress our people," they added.
"We therefore appeal to the President to listen to the pleas of our people who are already burdened by the pandemic, and to veto this particular version of the bill."
Various sectors can "work together to craft a better version that can uproot terrorism while addressing the people’s concerns about their basic rights," they said.
Aside from the presidents of Ateneo and La Salle, the following signed the statement:
- Br. Armin Luistro FSC, provincial superior of Lasallian East Asia District;
- Br. Bernard Oca FSC, president of De La Salle Santiago Zobel and St. Jaime Hilario School De La Salle Bagac, Bataan;
- Br. Augustine Boquer FSC, president of De La Salle University-Dasmariñas and De La Salle Medical Health Sciences, Inc;
- Br. Edmundo Fernandez FSC, president of La Salle Greenhills and De La Salle College of Saint Benilde;
- Br. Joaquin Martinez FSC, president of University of St. La Salle and St. Joseph’s High School-La Salle
- Br. Dante Jose Amisola FSC, president of De La Salle-Lipa;
- Fr. Primitivo Viray Jr. SJ, provincial superior of Philippine Province of the Society of Jesus;
- Fr. Roberto Yap SJ, president of Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan;
- Fr. Joel Tabora SJ, president of Ateneo de Davao University;
- Fr. Roberto Exequiel Rivera SJ, president of Ateneo de Naga University;
- Fr. Karel San Juan SJ, president of Ateneo de Zamboanga University;
- Fr. Manuel Uy Jr. SJ, president of Sacred Heart School Cebu-Ateneo de Cebu;
- Fr. Aristotle Dy SJ, president of Xavier School; and
- Fr. Joseph Raymund Patrick Sanchez SJ, president of Ateneo de Iloilo