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CHR fears exercise of rights may be classified as terrorism under anti-terror bill

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on Thursday expressed apprehension over the Congress-approved anti-terrorism bill, saying it would allow authorities to tag exercise of rights as an act of terrorism with no accountability.

The bill, certified urgent by President Rodrigo Duterte, defines the crime of inciting to terrorism through means of speeches, proclamations, writings, emblems, banners, or other representations.

Such definition, according to CHR spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia, is "broad" and "paves the road for possible abuse as it tends to blur the distinction between terroristic activities and ordinary crimes already punishable by the Revised Penal Code and other pertinent laws."

"Such overreach could be possibly used to limit substantial freedoms, including expression of dissent and critical perspectives,” de Guia said.

"With the vague and overly broad definition, authorities could wantonly tag exercise of rights as terrorist expressions."

While the government has the duty to protect its citizens, the CHR said that such cannot be done by sacrificing human rights which is clearly at jeopardy given that the bill allows detention of suspects for as long as 24 days without a warrant.

“Prolonged detention under the bill—up to 14 calendar days, with the possibility of extending it to 10 more days, may result to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or torture, which does not only pertain to acts of interrogation, but also conditions experienced by the suspect,” de Guia pointed out.

“The said proposal is in contrast with the present legal standards where an individual may be detained without warrant only for 12 hours, 18 hours, or 36 hours for light, less grave, or grave offenses respectively, in due consideration of a suspects physical and mental health, before being brought before a public prosecutor to determine the validity of the arrest made,” she added.

CHR also raised alarm since the Anti-Terror bill removed the Human Security law provision which imposes a P500,000 a day fine on authorities for detention of any person acquitted of terrorism charges.

“It is more concerning that, given the proposed extended period of detention, the said Act further absolves authorities from any criminal liability for the delay in the delivery of detained persons to the proper judicial authorities despite the Constitutional guarantee of presumption of innocence and due process,” de Guia said.

“We must then continue to be vigilant that it is terroristic acts that this bill is seeking to curb, not the legitimate exercise of rights and freedoms. And for instances of abuse, those who have used their position and power in excess must also be held to account,” de Guia added.

The CHR said that laws should defend human rights, not trample upon them.

“The CHR is against terrorism. The government must be equally protected against any forms of senseless violence seeking to destabilize it so it may effectively look out for the welfare of the people. [But] at the same time, we equally stress that laws against terrorism are enacted and implemented in defense of human rights,” de Guia said. --KBK, GMA News