MANILA (UPDATE) — Hundreds of protesters on Independence Day defied downpour from Tropical Depression Butchoy and a ban on mass gatherings to urge President Rodrigo Duterte to scrap an anti-terrorism bill that critics said could spawn rights abuses.
Carrying roses and food, the activists dubbed their mass action a "mañanita" in a dig at a recent birthday serenade for Metro Manila police chief Gen. Debold Sinas that allegedly violated the 10-people limit on gatherings to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. President Rodrigo Duterte had refused to sack Sinas.
Performance artist Mae Paner, dressed in an orange shirt, impersonated Sinas and blew birthday candles on a Voltes V cake in front of the crowd that was mostly wearing anti-virus masks at University of the Philippines-Diliman.
Internet sensation "Aling Marie," who shot to fame for a video bashing online troll farms, spoke at the rally and claimed the anti-terror bill that Duterte had certified as urgent could stifle criticism against the government.
Leody De Guzman, who lost his senatorial bid last year, said there were more pressing national issues than the bill.
"Sa lahat ng puwedeng asikasuhin na bills, eto pang anti-terror bill na naglalayon patahimikin ang mga kritiko ang inuuna... Sila ang namumuwersa na lumabas ang taumbayan," said Michelle Santos, a graduate of UP Baguio.
(Out of all the bills they could take care of, they are prioritizing the anti-terror bill that aims to silence critics. They are the ones forcing the public to go out.)
"Usapin ng kalayaan at kinabukasan ang nakataya dito, kaya hindi kami puwedeng manahimik," said Kara Taggaoa, spokesperson of the League of Filipino Students.
(Freedom and the future are at stake here so we can't keep quiet.)
The measure, which is up for Duterte's signature, will allow the government to wiretap suspects, arrest them without warrants and hold them without charge for up to 24 days, among others provisions.
Details of what constitute terrorism under the bill have worried human rights lawyers, who noted how the new definition “swivels” from "its effects upon the people toward its effect upon the government."
"The danger lies with how the government can construe legitimate acts of dissent or opposition within these definitions," according to the group Concerned Lawyers for Civil Liberties.
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.
The national police earlier urged protesters to take their grievances online to observe social distancing requirements during the coronavirus pandemic.
"Ang pandemya at bagyo ay lilipas naman, pero 'yung pagkuha o pagnakaw sa karapatan at demokrasya natin dapat hindi natin pinapalampas. At hindi naman ako natatakot sumama kasi alam kong hindi naman ako nag-iisa," said a protester who requested to be identified only as Christine Anne.
(The pandemic and storm will pass, but we shouldn't allow the theft of our rights and democracy. I'm not afraid to join the protest because I know I'm not alone.)
"Mas nakakatakot 'yung mangyayari kung hindi ako lalabas ng bahay para ipanawagan 'yung pagbasura sa anti-terror bill," said Dindo Roxas, a member of Karapatan Alliance Philippines.
(It's scarier if I don't go out of my house to call for the scrapping of the bill.)
-- With a report from Reuters