UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Tuesday called on President Rodrigo Duterte not to sign the controversial anti-terror bill, citing its potential “chilling effect” on humanitarian and human rights work.
Reporting on the Philippines’ human rights situation at the 44th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Bachelet cautioned that the measure “heightens our concerns on the blurring of important distinctions between criticism, criminality and terrorism.”
“I would urge the President to refrain from signing the (Anti-Terrorism) law and to initiate a broad-based consultation process to craft legislation that would effectively prevent and counter violent extremism but which contains some safeguards to prevent its misuse against people engaged in peaceful criticism and advocacy,” she said.
“The law could have a chilling effect on human rights and humanitarian work, hindering support to vulnerable and marginalized communities,” she said.
Congress earlier this month transmitted the much-criticized bill for President Rodrigo Duterte’s signature. Malacañang vowed a thorough review, and the President’s spokesman said Duterte was “inclined” to sign it into law.
The measure, crafted to supplant the 2007 Human Security Act, has stoked fears it might be used to suppress legitimate dissent, with critics and legal experts wary of its broad definition of terrorism.
It also allows detention via warrantless arrest for up to 24 days.
Its authors, meanwhile, say the concerns are unfounded, as the measure comes with enough safeguards.
In the report, Bachelet cited “serious” findings, including “killings, arbitrary detentions and vilification of those who challenge severe human rights violations” in the Philippines’ drug war.
In a video message shown at the session, Philippine Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said respect for human rights has deep roots in the country, recalling the 1986 peaceful revolt that led to the ouster of dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
“Human rights is a fundamental national interest, rooted in our recent history as the first country to use people power successfully to restore democracy by toppling a dictatorship notorious for human rights violations,” he said.
He said human rights is the “anchor of the agenda of the (Duterte) administration which seeks to promote and uplift the dignity of all 110 million Filipinos.”