Court challenge looms if Duterte approves anti-terror bill

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 10 2020 12:22 PM | Updated as of Jun 10 2020 12:32 PM

Court challenge looms if Duterte approves anti-terror bill 1
A woman raises a placard calling on legislators to scrap the proposed anti-terror bill that has drawn concern from human rights activists who fear it could be used to suppress free speech and harass those who challenge President Rodrigo Duterte, in Quezon City, June 4, 2020. Eloisa Lopez, Reuters

MANILA — Progressive group Bayan Muna said Wednesday it was "researching" its next legal step if President Rodrigo Duterte approved an anti-terrorism bill which lawyers and human rights activists claim could be used against his detractors. 

Lawmakers on Tuesday night sent the bill to Duterte, about a week after he certified it as urgent. Duterte can veto, approve, or let the measure lapse into law after 30 days of receipt without signing it.

"Nagre-research na (we are already researching)," Bayan Muna Chairman Neri Colmenares said when asked about possibly challenging the measure before the Supreme Court if it becomes a law. 

"Pero we are still hoping na baka sabihin niya, 'saka na nga ito' kasi divisive, unahin natin ang pandemya," he told ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo.

(But we are still hoping that perhaps President Duterte will say let's defer this because it's divisive, let's prioritize the coronavirus pandemic.) 

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The bill authorizes the government to wiretap suspects, arrest them without warrants and hold them without charge for 14 days, among others provisions. 

Champions of the law said it would not be used to suppress protest actions. However, the measure has a provision saying that demonstrations should not intend to harm the public, which makes it open to interpretation by authorities, said Colmenares. 

"Babalik na naman tayo sa interpretasyon ni President Duterte through his anti-terrorism council na, 'Hindi, ang intensyon ninyo is to really endanger public safety,'" he said. 

"Sa ilalim ng isang repressive o intolerant of dissent na klase ng presidente, talagang maabuso iyan," he added. 

(We will again go back to the interpretation of President Duterte through his anti-terrorism council that, 'No, your intention is to endanger public safety. Under a president who is repressive or intolerant of dissent, that could be abused.) 

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque earlier dismissed the criticism and said elements of the bill were patterned on those used in countries that had dealt effectively with extremism.

He said the 5-month takeover in 2017 of the southern city of Marawi by militants loyal to Islamic State showed the extent of extremist influence in the country.

"Let us not forget, the remains of Marawi is still there," Roque said. — With a report from Reuters