United Nations Report: “Anti-Terror Bill worrying”

by Anne Marxze D. Umil

MANILA – Worrying.

The United Nations High Commission on Human Rights Office described as “worrying” the new laws and amendments being proposed by the Philippine Congress.

In its report on human rights situation in the Philippines, which was released on Thursday, June 4, the UN body analyzed key national security laws and policy and its impact on civil society, particularly the issue of “red-tagging.”

The report noted that proposed laws such as the restoration of the death penalty for drug-related offenses and the lowering of the age of criminal responsibility would “breach the Philippines’ obligations under international human rights law.”

“The report also noted that the controversial Anti-Terrorism Act which replaces the Human Security Act of 2007 “dilutes human rights safeguards, broadens the definition of terrorism . . .”

The report also noted that the controversial Anti-Terrorism Act which replaces the Human Security Act of 2007 “dilutes human rights safeguards, broadens the definition of terrorism and expands the period of detention without warrant from three to 14 days, extendable by another 10 days.”

“The vague definitions in the Anti-Terrorism Act may violate the principle of legality,” the report read.

The anti-terrorism bill was recently passed in the House of Representatives and is only waiting for the signature of President Duterte. Several groups, as well as celebrities and influencers, have expressed their opposition to the law which they fear would take away the people’s basic human rights.

Read: UN Report HRC-44-22

The report also investigated the implemented measures in the country such as the state of emergency proclaimed on Sept. 4, 2016 after the Davao bombing where 14 civilians were killed.

The report noted that after Marawi siege in 2017, as of March 31 there are “359,941 individuals still displaced in Mindanao due to armed conflicts and natural disasters – many protractedly displaced, including 127,865 following the 2017 siege of Marawi.”

The UN body also criticized Memorandum Order No. 30 which authorized the deployment of additional forces of Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippines National Police “to suppress lawless violence and acts of terror in the provinces of Samar, Negros Oriental, Negros Occidental, and the Bicol region” in 2018.

“While there was violence in these areas prior to the implementation of the Order, information obtained by OHCHR and statements by the Commission on Human Rights indicate that the subsequent joint police-military operation may have resulted in serious human rights violations, including alleged killings and arbitrary detention,” the report read.

It also noted that there is need to further investigate the reports of serious violations of international humanitarian law, including in the conduct of aerial bombing operations.

Michele Bachelet, Commissioner, UN High Commission on Human Rights | UN Photo Archive

As a recommendation, the report said that the memorandum order should be rescinded. It added, “Ensure emergency measures are necessary, proportionate and time-bound, limited to those strictly required by the exigencies of the situation.”

The report also examined the Executive Order 70 which institutionalized the whole-of-nation approach to end the insurgency by 2022 which also created the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

The report noted concerns on the implementation of EO 70 which the report said “appears to be going in the opposite direction, mobilizing the administration, from national to local levels, against suspected communist sympathizers and sowing further suspicions and divisions in communities.”

Rights groups decried the implementation of EO 70 as crackdown against legal activists as several of their members were arrested and was slapped with trumped up charges.

“Advocacy for economic and social rights comes with the risk of being labeled anti-Government and thus pro-insurgency, which may hinder the goal of inclusive and sustainable development. There are concerns that these patterns resemble those that characterize the anti-illegal drugs campaign, notably a presumption of guilt and lack of due process or effective oversight – this time against those suspected of supporting the CPP-NPA,” the report read.

“Rights groups decried the implementation of EO 70 as crackdown against legal activists as several of their members were arrested and was slapped with trumped up charges.”

The report also recommended a “review of the EO 70 and its implementation to ensure compliance with the rule of law and international human rights norms and standards, and that political and socio-economic grievances are tackled through meaningful, participatory consultation.”

On the other hand, the report also included attacks on the press including the cases against Rappler and their chief executive officer, Maria Ressa, the shutdown of ABS-CBN as well as the cyberattacks against the websites of 20 media and non-government organizations through distributed denial of service attacks in 2018 and 2019 after publishing stories critical against officials.

UN High Commissioner said that with the many challenges faced by the Philippines on top of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important that the “government’s responses be grounded in human-rights approaches and guided by meaningful dialogue.”

“Accountability and full transparency for alleged violations are essential for building public trust. Unfortunately, the report has documented deep-seated impunity for serious human rights violations, and victims have been deprived of justice for the killings of their loved ones. Their testimonies are heartbreaking,” the High Commissioner Michel Bachelet said. (Bulatlat.com)

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