President Rodrigo Duterte signed the Anti-Terrorism Bill into law on Friday despite being barraged with criticisms from different sectors.
The signing of the law was confirmed by Presidential spokesman Harry Roque and was announced by Interior Secretary Eduardo Año in a message to reporters.
“As we have said, the President, together with his legal team, took time to study this piece of legislation weighing the concerns of different stakeholders,” Roque said in a statement.
The anti-terrorism law, now Republic Act No 11479, aims to make the existing Human Security Act of 2007 more comprehensive. However, critics believe it is open to abuse because it provides more surveillance powers to government forces.
One of the contentious features of the measure is the criminalization of planning, threatening, training, proposing, facilitating, and inciting to Terrorism. This incitement can be expressed through “speeches, proclamations, writings, emblems, banners, or other representations.”
Under the law, suspects can be detained for up to 24 days without charge. An anti-terrorism council will identify suspects or groups as suspected terrorists who could be arrested and undergo surveillance.
Duterte signs controversial anti-terrorism bill into law
The newly signed law will take effect 15 days after its publication in the Official Gazette or at least two newspapers of general circulation.
“The signing of the aforesaid law demonstrates our serious commitment to stamp out terrorism, which has long plagued the country and has caused unimaginable grief and horror to many of our people,” Roque said.
“Together, let us defeat terrorism and make our communities safe and secure under the rule of law,” he added.
While Duterte’s military and security officials consider the law as a response to the continuing threat from terror groups in the country such as the Abu Sayyaf, lawyer groups and human rights advocates, oppose the bill because of its vague definition of Terrorism and fear it may be used against political dissent.
Two weeks ago, President Duterte emphasized that the number one threat to the country is Terrorism and the communists.
“Terrorism is number one on our list. Actually, the number one threat to the country, hindi Abu Sayyaf, hindi mga terorista of no value. Itong high-value targets itong mga komunista (is not the Abu Sayyaf Group nor the terrorists of no value. The high-value targets are the communists),” he said.
“If I do not do my duty now as President, we might just bargain away, place in jeopardy, the democratic values that the Filipinos have enjoyed for the longest time,” he said.