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UST and UP Manila: Gov’t must prioritize COVID-19 response, not anti-terrorism bill

MANILA, Philippines — Instead of prioritizing legislation that is feared to crack down on people’s basic rights, the government should focus on fighting the coronavirus pandemic, the University of the Philippines Manila and the University of Santo Tomas said in separate statements.

In a statement Monday, UP Manila said the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, will be used by the government as a tool to silence critics and suppress opposition.

The proposed measure, which seeks to repeal the Human Security Act of 2007, is now up for President Rodrigo Duterte’s signature after the House of Representatives approved it last week. The lower chamber adopted the Senate version of the bill.

The faculty and staff of UP Manila expressed alarm over the broad but vague definition of terrorism as well as the legalization of surveillance activities.

“The very broad definition of terrorism and the too much discretion given to State authorities to determine terrorist activities makes the bill when enacted into law highly dangerous and subject to abuse. Activities considered as inimical to the interests, stability and security of State officials and their families are most likely to be labelled as such,” they said.

They also expressed concerns on the expanded period of detention without warrant for a maximum of 10 days and the restriction of the right to travel of an individual even prior to the filling of a formal charge.

“The rights to free speech, expression and peaceful assembly, rights to association and privacy, and the right to due process will be under attack and seriously violated when the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 is in place,” the UP Manila faculty and staff said.

‘Immense powers’ to Anti-Terrorism Council

In a statement Sunday evening, UST warned that the proposed legislation would “gradually debilitate the exercise of civil liberties, with harmful results.”

The university also expressed concerns on giving vast powers to the Anti-Terrorism Council, a special body composed of presidential appointees that would permit law enforcement authorities to arrest people it designates as terrorists.

Under the current law, this determination is done by a court.

“Unfortunately, the proposed law which gives immense powers to a special body shall have overreaching implications,” it said.

UST also stressed that the bill sows fear and divisiveness at a time when Filipinos should be working together to battle the pandemic that has infected nearly 22,000 people in the country.

“It is in this context that the university appeals to the government to instead draw its efforts to fight the war against COVID-19. We hope and pray that whatever decision our government will choose to make, it would be the one that will truly unite the Filipino people especially during these challenging times,” it said.









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