Statement of the Commission on Human Rights on the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020

Statement of the Commission on Human Rights on the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) recognizes the duty of the State to preserve the country’s peace, security, and the general welfare of its people by adopting effective measures countering the threats of terrorism. This must be done, however, without compromising everyone’s fundamental rights and freedoms. Effective counterterrorism measures and the protection of human rights complement and reinforce each other. The right to peace is a human right.

As such, while the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act attempts to align with these principles, its provisions are a cause for concern to CHR when viewed through a human rights lens.

The vague and overbroad definition of ‘terrorism’ makes it difficult to distinguish an act of terrorism to that of an ordinary crime which are already penalized by the Revised Penal Code and other pertinent laws. This opens the doors for prosecution under the proposed legislation which should only fall within the crimes punishable by the Revised Penal Code or other special laws for ordinary crimes. As a result, such practice creates a chilling effect on the exercise of fundamental rights and freedoms enshrined in the Constitution and international human rights laws to which the Philippines is a State-party.

As foreseen, this overly broad definition carries the potential for unintended (and intended) human rights abuses, and may be misused to target dissenter, critics of the government, civil society organizations, human rights defenders, journalists, minority groups, labour activists, indigenous peoples, and members of the political opposition. This may result to an unwarranted limitation and suppression on the right to organization, free speech, and right to privacy among others.

The Commission takes cognizance of the provision allowing the law enforcement agencies to conduct surveillance on ‘suspected’ terrorist through the interception and recording of their private communications. The unscrupulous access to a persons’ confidential information circumvents the right against self-incrimination and may pave the way for ‘fishing expeditions’ by government authorities and evade the right against unreasonable searches and seizures.

While the Commission understands that profiling and surveillance may be legitimate activities of the security sector to enforce the law and prevent criminal and terrorist activities, they must be done strictly within the bounds of law to prevent possible abuse. They cannot be used as instruments of intimidation, harassment, repression or prevention of the free exercise of fundamental rights. The Commission thus calls on the security sector to be mindful of the provisions of Republic Act No. 10173 or the Data Privacy Act of 2012, as well as to ensure that all profiling and surveillance activities are above board, properly documented and authorized.

Even before the Anti-Terror Act of 2020 came into picture, red-tagging, labelling and branding of individuals and organizations as leftist, communist, and terrorist has been a norm used by the present administration to silence those who dissents and critical of the government. This practice alone already constitutes a grave threat to the life, liberty, and security of these individuals and their families. Through this piece of legislations, the government will be given an unhampered authority to silence dissent.

It cannot be denied that red-tagging and labelling is a matter of serious concern that should not be taken lightly. Aside from its consequent delegitimization of dissent and public stigmatization, it is, more often than not, a prelude, or even an open invitation for anyone, to commit further atrocities against the person tagged.

The prolonged detention of an individual for a period of 14 days—extendible for another 10 days—without judicial warrant and the denial of the right to post bail, is not only against the period of detention allowed by law and jurisprudence but may also result to degrading, inhuman, and cruel treatment.

International standards suggest that delays in bringing a person before the court must exceed ‘a few days,’ and ‘any delay longer than forty-eight (48) hours should be justified by exceptional circumstances.’ [1] It has treated delays of three or more days as being in violation of Article 9(3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Detention will be considered arbitrary if the State party continues to detain an individual ‘beyond the period for which the State, thru its law enforcement officers, can provide an appropriate justification.’[2]

It is more concerning that, given the proposed extended period of detention, the said Act further absolves authorities from any ‘criminal liability for the delay in the delivery of detained persons to the proper judicial authorities’ despite the Constitutional guarantee of presumption of innocence and due process.

CHR, for its part, has since relayed its reservations on several provisions of the said bill.

Representatives of the CHR were present during five hearings on 11 and 18 February; 3 and 10 March; and 29 May 2020 on the said bill at the House of Representatives.

CHR has sent a letter to the Chairperson of the Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs of the Senate of the Philippines, Senator Panfilo M Lacson, dated 6 June 2019, and has attended a joint hearing by the Committee on National Defense and Security and Committee on Finance on 13 August 2019 alongside other representatives from the Departments of National Defense, the Interior and Local Government, and Information and Communications Technology; the National Security Adviser; Armed Forces of the Philippines; Philippine National Police; National Intelligence Coordinating Council; Branch 272 of the Marikina City Regional Trial Court; and the Anti-Terrorism Council-Program Management Center.

In the end, CHR recognises the dangers of terrorism. We should condemn its perpetrators and its effects on our lives. But in the pursuit of preventing its threats, we cannot put our rights on the line. We need to be continuously vigilant. ###

 [1] Borisenko v. Hungary, Human Rights Committee Communication No. 852/1999, UN Doc CCPR/C/76/D/852/1999 (2002), para. 7.4 (three days)

 [2] Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Martin Scheinin (A/HRC/6/17/Add.2), para.  77.