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UN human rights chief: Philippine anti-terror bill 'dilutes human rights safeguards'

The United Nations' human rights chief has warned against the anti-terrorism bill that is awaiting President Rodrigo Duterte's signature after hurdling Congress on Wednesday.

In a short portion of her report on the human rights situation in the Philippines, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said the anti-terrorism bill "dilutes human rights safeguards."

"The proposed 2020 Anti-Terrorism Act, slated to replace the already problematic Human Security Act, 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 report states. 

"The vague definitions in the Anti-Terrorism Act may violate the principle of legality," it adds.

She cited the proposed measure among "worrying new laws and amendments" that "risk eroding constitutional and other legal protections."

Her report also mentions bills to restore the death penalty for drug-related offenses and to lower the age of criminal responsibility, which she said "would breach the Philippines' obligations under international human rights law."

The report, released Thursday, mainly claims that the government's "heavy-handed" national security approach, including its anti-illegal drug and counterterrorism efforts, has led to "serious" human rights violations. The report will be presented in the UN Human Rights Council's 44th session.

The anti-terrorism bill seeks to virtually repeal the Human Security Act of 2007, the country's existing law against terrorism. The bill was approved by the House of Representatives on third and final reading on Wednesday. The Senate version of the bill was passed last February.

The measure, which Duterte certified as urgent, became an enrolled bill since there were no disagreeing provisions between the Senate and the House versions.

Several groups have criticized the bill, raising concerns that it may empower the government to go after dissenters and activists and that it may be abused by authorities.

An author of the bill, PBA party-list Representative Jericho Nograles, has said that the proposed law is not anti-activist and only targets terrorists and violent extremists.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, for his part, has said the Constitution -- the fundamental law of the land -- guarantees the freedom of expression.

The bill defines terrorism as an act committed by a person in or outside the Philippines who engages in activities intended to cause death or serious bodily injury to any person or endanger's a person's life, and to cause extensive damage or destruction to a government or public facility, public place or private property.

Terrorism is also committed by a person who engages in acts intended to cause extensive interference with, damage or destruction to critical infrastructure, and develops, manufactures, possesses, acquires, transports, supplies, or uses weapons, explosives or of biological, nuclear, radiological or chemical weapons.

Under the measure, any person who will threaten to commit terrorism, propose any terroristic act, incite others to commit terrorism, join any terrorist group, or act as an accessory in the commission of terrorism will be imprisoned for 12 years.

It removes the provision on the payment of P500,000 in damages per day of detention of any person acquitted of terrorism charges. As Bachelet pointed out, the bill sets a 14-day period, extendable by 10 days, in which a suspected terrorist can be detained without a warrant.

The proposed measure also allows the police or the military to conduct a 60-day surveillance -- extendable by up to 30 days upon authorization by the Court of Appeals --  on suspected terrorists.

It provides that law enforcement or military personnel found to have violated the rights of the accused will face imprisonment of 10 years. --KBK, GMA News