The proposed anti-terrorism law will erode human rights and worsen the climate of impunity in the Philippines, the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers (NUPL) warned on Monday.
The lawyers' group made the statement after a House joint committee reportedly adopted a Senate version of a proposed measure that seeks to strengthen the country's anti-terrorism law.
President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday certified the House bill as urgent.
The NUPL warned that the bill poses "incalculable" dangers, especially for activists and progressive organizations that it said have been targeted by the government as "terrorist" groups or fronts.
The group said the provisions of the proposed law that had been approved by the Senate "would undermine our democracy and either threaten, restrain or discourage the people’s right to organize, criticize the government, protest and demand for a redress of their grievances."
This was the same sentiment raised by the Movement Against Tyranny, an alliance of human rights advocacy groups, when the Senate bill was approved on third and final reading in February.
The NUPL further warned that the proposed law gives the police and the military "much elbow room" to interpret its provisions, making the bill "prone to abuse and misuse," and "allows surveillance, wiretapping and recording of conversations of any person suspected of committing the loosely-defined concept of 'terrorist acts.'"
"Should this bill become a law, we should then expect 'uninvited' guests peering into our private spaces. This clearly violates our right to privacy enshrined in our Bill of Rights," the NUPL said.
"Additionally, this proposed legislation legalizes red-tagging of organizations on suspicion of engaging in abstrusely termed 'terrorist acts.' Thus, it essentially renders nugatory our freedom of association," it added.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said criticisms of the proposed law have no basis, claiming that the bill provides for penalties for law enforcement agencies that commit abuses.
The official earlier described the Human Security Act of 2007, which the Senate bill seeks to repeal, as "toothless" and "unhelpful."
It is under the Human Security Act that the Duterte administration sought the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People's Army judicially declared as terrorist organizations.
A court in Manila, where the petition for this purpose was filed, dismissed the case last December after the government failed to serve summons to the respondents by publication.
But the court revived the petition in February this year when it granted the motion for reconsideration filed by prosecutors. — BM, GMA News