U.S. Reps. Judy Chu and Jan Schakowsky held a virtual press conference expressing their opposition to the controversial antiterrorism bill signed by Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte.
“We stand together in calling for the Philippine government to repeal the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 that risks further undermining human rights in the Philippines,” Schakowsky said. “We fear it will be used against anyone who protests against the government, whether be it in the abuse in the government or delay in distribution of COVID-19 aid, or any other grievance.”
Chu, the chairwoman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, backed her fellow congresswoman echoing similar sentiments.
“Simply put, President Duterte’s new powers under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 are a threat to democracy and human rights in the Philippine,” Chu added. “It’s about silencing dissent. The true targets for this law are advocates for human rights, the environment, workers and indigenous communities.”
The Philippines has had a long and contentious battle with Islamic militancy originating in the southern islands of the Philippines. The law aims to combat the insurgency by broadening powers of arrest and detention. According to the new law, terrorism suspects can be detained without a warrant, for a longer period of time before being charged and no longer requires a judge to assess if a prisoner has been tortured, physically or mentally.
Many human rights organizations believed that increased power given to Duterte and his forces may lead to arrests of Duterte’s foes.
“We see the targeted killings of labor rights and human rights activists. We see the silencing of the Rappler, a media outlet, which was instrumental in exposing this government,” Chu said.
“We see the ongoing attacks against any who dare who speak against Duterte’s violence and the trampling of rights. We are telling them that these egregious attacks on human rights cannot stand.”
The new law bares striking resemblance to Duterte’s war on drugs. Beginning early in Duterte’s regime, the Filipino President allowed extrajudicial killings of drug dealers and suspected drug users throughout the nation. This campaign has led to thousands of deaths of Filipinos. In a recent report by Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, described the killings as “systematic” and saw a general “unwillingness” to prosecute the perpetrators of the killings.
According to the Filipino news website Rappler, there are nine petitions filed against the law with the Philippines’ Supreme Court pending appeal.