Philippine president signs widely opposed anti-terror law

Opponents of the Anti-Terrorism Act say they will question the constitutionality of the law in the Supreme Court. (AFP)
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Updated 03 July 2020

Philippine president signs widely opposed anti-terror law

  • President Rodrigo Duterte signs the Anti-Terrorism Act after weighing the concerns of different groups
  • Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and other security officials have played down fears the law could be misused

MANILA: The Philippine president on Friday signed a widely opposed anti-terror law which critics fear could be used against human rights defenders and to muzzle dissent.
President Rodrigo Duterte signed the Anti-Terrorism Act after weighing the concerns of different groups, demonstrating the government’s commitment to stamping out terrorism, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.
Opponents say they will question the constitutionality of the law in the Supreme Court.
The law, which Congress sent to the president for signing last month, allows the detention of suspects for up to 24 days without charge and empowers a government anti-terrorism council to designate suspects or groups as suspected terrorists who could then be subject to arrest and surveillance.
Military officials have cited the threat of terrorism, including from Daesh group-linked Abu Sayyaf militants in the southern Philippines, as a reason why the country needs the law. It replaces a 2007 anti-terror law called the Human Security Act that has been rarely used, largely because law enforcers can be fined 500,000 pesos ($9,800) for each day they wrongfully detain a terrorism suspect.
Lawmakers removed such safeguards in the new legislation, which increases the number of days that suspects can be detained without warrants from three to 24.
Opposition to the law has been mounting, with Catholic bishops saying the definition of terrorism under the law is so broad it could threaten legitimate dissent and civil liberties. The Integrated Bar of the Philippines, the largest group of lawyers in the country, and UN rights officials have also expressed concern along with nationalist groups and media watchdogs.
Opponents said the law violates the constitution, which restricts detention beyond three days without specific charges.
“This administration has effectively crafted a new weapon to brand and hound any perceived enemies of the state,” said Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific regional director. “In the prevailing climate of impunity, a law so vague on the definition of ‘terrorism’ can only worsen attacks against human rights defenders.”
“Under Duterte’s presidency, even the mildest government critics can be labeled terrorists,” Bequelin said.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and other security officials have played down fears the law could be misused, saying it won’t be used against government opponents.
The legislation states that terrorism excludes “advocacy, protest, dissent, stoppage of work, industrial or mass action and other similar exercises of civil and political rights.”
For years, government troops have been battling Abu Sayyaf militants who have been listed as terrorists by both the United States and the Philippines for ransom kidnappings, beheadings and bombings in the restive south.
In 2017, hundreds of militants affiliated with the Daesh group laid siege to Marawi city in the south. Troops quelled the siege after five months in a massive offensive backed by the United States and Australia that left more than 1,000 people dead, mostly militants, and the mosque-studded city in ruins.

Sri Lanka casts its vote under shadow of virus

Updated 06 August 2020

Sri Lanka casts its vote under shadow of virus

  • Security crackdown as more than 7,400 candidates contest twice-delayed election

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka went to the polls on Wednesday to elect 225 members to its 9th Parliament amid tight security and health precautions to limit the coronavirus pandemic.

The polls were twice-delayed after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa dissolved the assembly in March and postponed polls scheduled for April due to the outbreak, before finally deciding on Aug. 5 as the date for general elections.

Mahinda Deshapriya, chairman of the Sri Lanka Elections Commission (EC), said police had been given “shooting orders” in case of security breaches and strict health protocols had been introduced at polling booths.

Deshapriya said that all 12,985 polling booths had been sanitized as a preventive measure.

The elections were completed at an estimated cost of $48.6 million, up from the $37.8 million spent during last year’s presidential polls.

Speaking to Arab News on Wednesday, Samuel Ratnajeevan Hoole, an EC member, said that a 60 percent turnout by noon was a “good sign of voters’ response.”

“Our voters are matured and informed now, and they will choose whom they want irrespective of any racial or religious differences,” he said, adding that there were fewer poll-related complaints this year compared with previous elections.

There were 46 registered political parties and 313 independent groups vying for the 225-seat parliament, with a total of 7,452 candidates in the fray – 3,652 fielded by 46 parties and 3,800 representing 313 independent groups.

According to the EC, nearly 16,263,885 registered voters could make their choice at the elections.

At this election, 196 members are to be elected at the district level under the proportional representation system to the 225-member parliament, while 29 members will be chosen from the National List. Under the 1978 constitution, the members are elected to the 9th Parliament.

Dr. Ruwan Wijemuni, general director of health services in Colombo, credited the voters for “lending their cooperation in full to make it a grand success.” At the same time, police spokesman Jaliya Senaratne said there were no reports of violence from any part of the island.

“There were minor scuffles on the eve of the polls in some parts of the island which were settled then and there,” he added.

Ismathul Rahman, 57, from the coastal town of Negombo, told Arab News that this year people were “keen to elect the right people” for their respective electorate as it was “crucial for the country’s economy.”

“It was a peaceful poll without any remarkable incidents of violence. The EC has managed the show well,” said Khalid Farook, 70, former president of the All-Ceylon Young Men’s Muslim Association, Wednesday.