MANILA (2nd UPDATE) - UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Tuesday called on President Rodrigo Duterte not to sign the controversial anti-terror bill, citing its potential "chilling effect" on humanitarian and human rights work.
Reporting on the Philippines' human rights situation at the 44th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Bachelet cautioned that the measure "heightens our concerns on the blurring of important distinctions between criticism, criminality and terrorism.”
"I would urge the President to refrain from signing the (Anti-Terrorism) law and to initiate a broad-based consultation process to craft legislation that would effectively prevent and counter violent extremism but which contains some safeguards to prevent its misuse against people engaged in peaceful criticism and advocacy," she said.
"The law could have a chilling effect on human rights and humanitarian work, hindering support to vulnerable and marginalized communities," she said.
Congress earlier this month transmitted the much-criticized bill for President Rodrigo Duterte's signature. Malacañang vowed a thorough review, and the President's spokesman said Duterte was "inclined" to sign it into law.
The measure, crafted to supplant the 2007 Human Security Act, has stoked fears it might be used to suppress legitimate dissent, with critics and legal experts wary of its broad definition of terrorism.
It also allows detention via warrantless arrest for up to 24 days.
Its authors, meanwhile, say the concerns are unfounded, as the measure comes with enough safeguards.
In the report, Bachelet cited "serious" findings, including "killings, arbitrary detentions and vilification of those who challenge severe human rights violations" in the Philippines' drug war."
In a video message shown at the session, Philippine Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said respect for human rights had deep roots in the country, recalling the 1986 peaceful revolt that led to the ouster of dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
"Human rights is a fundamental national interest, rooted in our recent history as the first country to use people power successfully to restore democracy by toppling a dictatorship notorious for human rights violations," he said.
Human rights is the "anchor of the agenda of the (Duterte) administration, which seeks to promote and uplift the dignity of all 110 million Filipinos," he said.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on Wednesday urged Bachelet to read the anti-terror bill, saying it was carefully crafted and that the Philippines is open to cooperation with international agencies to ensure its anti-crime campaign is within the bounds of the law and human rights.
"My take on this is apparently Bachelet may know French but she doesn’t know English, and the law is in the English language. She should read it. It’s very careful,” he said in a virtual news forum.
"What I’ve seen there is basically what Ping (Sen. Panfilo) Lacson and I wrote in our time in Congress when (I was) still there. I cannot argue with those who deliberately misstate the facts. They should read the law and show exactly what it is."
Issues surrounding human rights in the Philippines drew mixed reactions from different countries represented in the council.
Western nations were alarmed with the report, particularly on the alleged extrajudicial killings and other rights violations.
They also expressed concern on the cyber libel conviction of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and the shutdown of ABS-CBN, the country's largest broadcaster.
Many countries also noted "questionable" provisions of the new anti-terrorism bill, saying it could be used to criminalize dissent and activism.
Other governments support the Philippines' efforts to curb crime and strengthen the rule of law.
Meanwhile, China expressed its strong support for the Philippines' fight against crime.
"We support Philippine government's law enforcement actions to fight drug crimes and maintain security and social order. China has always advocated dialogue and cooperation among parties to address differences in the field of human rights," it said.
The Russian Federation said all countries have human rights issues but they must strive to resolve this internally. - With a report from Bettina Magsaysay and Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News