President Rodrigo Duterte signed into law the controversial Anti-Terrorism Bill amid fears that the measure could be used to silence government critics.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque confirmed late Friday afternoon Duterte’s signing.
The new law will take effect 15 days after publication in the Official Gazette or a newspaper of general circulation.
“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.
“Terrorism, as we often said, strikes anytime and anywhere. It is a crime against the people and humanity; thus, the fight against terrorism requires a comprehensive approach to contain terrorist threats,” he added.
The new 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 further said.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III along with senators Panfilo Lacson and Francis Tolentino lauded President Duterte for signing the bill.
“I am glad the President sifted through the rubble and saw the importance of the law,” Sotto said.
“I cannot imagine this measure being signed under another administration. If only for this, I doff my hat off to the President,” Lacson said. “Rest assured that I will exert extra effort in guarding against possible abuses in its implementation, notwithstanding all the safeguards incorporated in this landmark legislation.”
For his part, Tolentino said, “[It’s] very timely and historic as it is a measure needed by our nation. It just goes to show that a stable peace and order climate should go hand with economic rejuvenation post COVID-19. We should all support this measure.”
Among the contentious part in the measure was the arrest of a suspected terrorist and his detention for 14 days, extendable by another 10 days, without so much as a charge filed against him.
Militant and human rights groups, among others, fear that the Anti-Terrorism Act will be abused and used to go after critics of the government, while Commission on Human Rights called out the bill’s vague definition of terrorism.
Under the signed measure, terrorism was described as any activity committed by any person who, within or outside the Philippines, regardless of the stage of execution:
1. engages in acts intended to cause death or serious bodily injury to any person, or endangers a person’s life
2. engages in acts intended to cause extensive damage or destruction to a government or public facility, public place or private property
3. engages in acts intended to cause extensive interference with, damage or destruction to critical infrastructure
4. develops, manufactures, possesses, acquires, transports, supplies or uses weapons, explosives or of biological, nuclear, radiological or chemical weapons; and
5. release of dangerous substances, or causing fire, floods or explosions
It also described terrorist activities as acts that “intimidate the general public or a segment thereof, create an atmosphere or spread a message of fear, to provoke or influence by intimidation the government or any of its international organization, or seriously destabilize or destroy the fundamental political, economic, or social structures of the country, or create a public emergency or seriously undermine public safety.”
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