DOJ: Anti-terror bill no crackdown vs critics

June 09, 2020

THE Department of Justice (DOJ) yesterday allayed growing public concern over the proposed anti-terror law, vowing that it wouldn't be used to crack down on government critics.

" I would just probably, to answer that question, bring that question to one of the provisions of the law which says na hindi nya in essence pinipigilan yung dissent, yung opposition, yung crticisim against the government. That I think should somehow calm yung concerns of certain quarters over the possible abuses diumano na posibleng ma commit using the proposed anti terror bill of 2020, " said Justice Undersecretary Markk Perete, concurrent DOJ spokesperson.

Perete also defended the timing of the proposed legislation, saying this was already pending in Congress long before the COVID-19 outbreak in the country.

"My understanding is itong batas na ito, itong bill na ito ay matagal nang nakabinbin sa Kongreso. I think for over a decade, this is an amendment to the existing terrorism law as well as terrorist financing act, so this is to amend an existing legislation and siguro na nagkataon lamang na yung pansin ng Kongreso ay natuon dito sa legislation na ito at this point in time, " Perete said.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra the other day said the DOJ will start reviewing the proposed anti-terror bill which human rights and religious groups rejected for allegedly being prone to abuse and misuse.

“The DOJ will already start its own review of the bill. The DOJ’s task is not to interfere with governmental policy but to determine if the provisions of any enrolled bill are in accordance with the constitution, " Guevarra said.

Opposition is mounting against the proposed anti-terror law as human rights and religious groups called the attention of lawmakers to the supposed constitutional violations that might happen if the bill is signed into law.

In a statement, the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines (AMRSP), which comprises the country’s top Catholic schools and universities, stressed that the proposed legislation is prone to abuse and misuse.

“This bill can be abused to stifle dissent and curtail rights to free speech, to organize and form associations, to peaceable assembly in redress of grievances,” the AMRSP said.

“Terrorism is not our immediate concern. Marawi’s rehabilitation and the continued displacement of communities should be our priority. People’s health, safety, and well-being should be first on our agenda. 

These are the urgent concerns that we as a people need to address. These are the challenges that government can address by channeling resources for its resolution,” the group added.

The Concerned Lawyers for Civil Liberties (CLCL) has claimed that the proposed legislation 'expanded' the definition of terrorism, which may allow the government to extensively crackdown on its critics.

"The danger therein lies with how the government can construe legitimate acts of dissent or opposition within these definitions – it gives the government almost free reign in determining who are 'suspected terrorists,'" CLCL said.

"Even ordinary citizens airing their grievances against government on social media may fall within its ambit," it added.