MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday defended the country’s new anti-terror law, saying that law-abiding citizens had no reason to fear it.
The new law criminalizes acts that incite terrorism “by means of speeches, proclamations, writings, emblems, banners or other representations.”
The law also grants the president power to create an anti-terrorism council that could tag individuals and groups as terrorists; allows authorities to detain suspected terrorists without charge for up to 24 days; and permits the government to conduct 90 days of surveillance and wiretaps.
Speaking for the first time about the controversial legislation since it was signed on July 3, Duterte stressed that the bill would
be used to protect the country from terrorism.
“For the law-abiding citizen of this country, I am addressing you with all sincerity: Do not be afraid if you are not a terrorist, if you don’t destroy the government, blow up churches or public utilities ... just to see the nation fall,” Duterte said in a taped address.
He stressed that the new anti-terror law was a much-needed legal weapon that the government could use to fight terrorism, citing attacks in Mindanao which “have killed many people” and threatened peace and order in the southern part of the archipelago.
He described the country’s democracy as “a little bit shaky” and emphasized that it was his obligation to defend and protect the nation from those who intended to destroy it.
“Once you blow up a church, blow up a marketplace ... the right to defend itself accrues to the government heavily,” he said, adding that “if you kill people, I will really kill you.”
Duterte also took a swipe at the country’s communists, branding them terrorists for their continued rejection of the government’s call for peace.
“They think that they are a different breed. They would like to be treated with another set of law. When, as a matter of fact, they are terrorists,” Duterte said, lamenting that he had spent most of his days as a president “trying to figure out and connect with them on how we can arrive at a peaceful solution.”
The anti-terror law has been widely criticized, with many groups and personalities saying it is prone to abuse.
As of Wednesday, five petitions had been filed before the Supreme Court, questioning its constitutionality and seeking a temporary restraining order to stop its implementation temporarily.
Among the provisions of the law being questioned by the petitioners are the definition of terrorism and the arrest of suspects without a warrant and their prolonged detention.
Rights groups described the new law as yet “another setback to human rights” in the country.
Bangsamoro Chief Minister Ahod “Al Haj Murad” Ebrahim said that the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) respected Duterte’s decision to sign the law.
He added that the BARMM was open to engaging with the government to address terrorism, recommending Bangsamoro representation in the Anti-Terrorism Council.
Bangsamoro leaders had previously called on Duterte to veto the measure to allow Congress to review and address some of the law’s controversial provisions but, since it has been signed into law, Ebrahim said: “We trust that the president will ensure that the concerns and apprehensions of the Bangsamoro people on some provisions of the law will not happen.”
The Anti-Terror Act will take effect 15 days after being signed into law.