Philippines Passes Anti-Terror Bill Ahead of Stimulus Plan

(Bloomberg) -- Philippine lawmakers have approved a bill allowing warrantless detention and wiretapping of suspected terrorists, which the country’s human rights commission says could curb expressions of dissent and other freedoms.

The House of Representatives gave its final approval on the anti-terrorism bill, adopting the Senate’s version of the measure that’s been certified by President Rodrigo Duterte as urgent. Bills on economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic await lawmakers’ approval, with sessions adjourning this week.

“People are losing jobs. Uncertainty lies in the air. People are hungry, clamoring for direction. Certainly, the timing is very bad,” Deputy Minority Leader Janette Garin, a former health secretary, said after the House passed the bill Wednesday night.

On Tuesday, the House gave its penultimate approval on a bill allocating 1.5 trillion pesos ($30 billion) for infrastructure to create jobs for those displaced by the pandemic. Similar stimulus measures remain pending at the Senate.

Rights Violations

The anti-terrorism bill can now be signed into law by Duterte. The legislation is needed as current policies lack “the teeth that is required given the current face of international terrorism,” Duterte’s spokesman Harry Roque said in an ABS-CBN interview Wednesday.

The bill’s broad definition of terrorism could result in possible abuses, Commission on Human Rights spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia said. “With the vague and overly broad definition, authorities could wantonly tag exercise of rights as terrorist expressions,” she said.

The United Nations Human Rights Office said in a statement Thursday that human rights concerns in the Philippines “have become more acute in recent years,” particularly due to Duterte’s drug war which has killed thousands. The government has said that some drug suspects fought back, prompting cops to defend themselves.

“The underpinning focus on national security threats – real and inflated – has led to serious human rights violations, reinforced by harmful rhetoric from high-level officials,” the U.N. office said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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