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International lawyers' groups urge Duterte to veto anti-terror bill

Over a hundred international lawyers and lawyers' associations have joined calls for President Rodrigo Duterte to veto the anti-terrorism bill.

In a letter addressed to Duterte, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, and Congress, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL) said the international community is "alarmed by the apparent abuses of power and civil unrest that the law will bring about."

"It will suppress and criminalize free speech and dissent, label and punish political enemies as terrorists, and unjustly deprive them of basic internationally recognized human rights and due process," the IADL said.

The lawyers urged Guevarra, whose department is studying the bill, to reject it on constitutional and procedural grounds. They also called on members of Congress who voted in favor of the bill to withdraw their vote.

The IADL raised concerns on the bill that its other critics have similarly brought up: the powers of the Anti-Terrorism Council, the warrantless arrest and detention of suspected terrorists for up to 24 days, as well as the "overbroad and vague" definitions of terrorism.

"The so-called safeguards included in the bill that claim to protect the people’s freedoms are weakened by the vague definitions of terrorism and protecting public safety and can actually serve to crush 'legitimate' forms of protest, such as striking workers’ picket lines and peaceful mass demonstrations," the IADL said.

The association said the bill is "unnecessary" and is a "tyrannical upgrade" of the Human Security Act of 2007, the country's existing law against terrorism, and "largely contravenes the 1987 Constitution."

"It is abhorrent and immoral to pass this legislation while the global community is still suffering under the COVID-19 pandemic," the IADL added.

Amid criticism, PBA party-list Representative Jericho Nograles, an author of the measure, earlier said the proposed law is not against activists, claiming that it only targets terrorists and violent extremists.

Senator Panfilo Lacson, who authored the bill at the Senate, has denied that the Anti-Terrorism Council will has the power to authorize the arrest of suspected terrorists.

In the letter, the IADL also said the bill was passed in a "highly irregular manner," claiming that only around 20 House members were physically present during the vote and the rest cast their votes remotely through Viber.

Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman last week asked the House secretary-general to provide him a certified true copy of the results of the nominal voting for the final reading approval of the bill.

The lawmaker said there “appears to be some confusion on the tabulation of votes" and said a certified true copy should be “based on the individual voting in the Plenary and by Zoom as recorded in our All Members Viber Community.”

The IADL claimed in conclusion that the anti-terrorism bill "violates all the rights that the Philippines has agreed to guarantee its people."

Filipino human rights lawyer Edre Olalia, the transitional president of the IADL, said the letter was sent to Duterte, Guevarra, and all members of Congress on Friday.

Like the Department of Justice, Malacanang is reviewing the bill, which was transmitted to the Palace this week.

The President has 30 days to either sign or veto the bill. If this period ends with no action from Duterte, the bill becomes law. -MDM, GMA News