Umbrella group denounces Durterte anti-terrorism bill

Local | Mary Ann Benitez 5 Jun 2020

A vocal umbrella group of Filipino domestic helpers yesterday denounced Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte's government for passing an anti-terror bill yesterday amid the Covid-19 pandemic and "red-tagging" groups promoting workers' rights.

A petition from 163 groups, including those from Hong Kong and led by Migrante International, which Manila has "red-tagged," said: "Warrantless arrests and arbitrary detentions for up to 24 days deprive accused persons of their right to legal remedy."

The terror bill, which comes despite the country having a Human Security Act since 2007, will also create an anti-terror council that would determine what constitutes terrorism and order arrests without a warrant.

Vice president Leni Robredo, a member of the opposition, said: "Is terrorism really the focus of the terror bill? Or is it just interested in giving the state the powers to call anyone a terrorist?"

The passage of the bill deemed "more severe than martial law" comes on the same day the United Nations said thousands of Filipinos have been killed amid "near impunity" for offenders in Duterte's war on illegal drugs since 2016.

The crackdown has been marked by high-level rhetoric that can be seen as "permission to kill," according to the 26-page report prepared by Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, which also urged an independent investigation.

Dolores Balladares-Pelaez, chairwoman of Unifil-Migrante Hong Kong, said the red-tagging of Migrante meant they are being labeled as "communists, terrorists."

"Even when you post on social media like Facebook complaining about the government, you could be arrested under the law. You can be imprisoned. The government wants to suppress all its critics," she said.

Filipinos also said Duterte should focus on controlling the country's Covid-19 crisis, which has infected 20,382 people, of whom 984 have died. As of yesterday, the Philippines has one of the highest tolls in southeast Asia.

They also pointed to the failed Duterte scheme that promised US$200 (HK$1,560) in financial assistance for displaced overseas Filipino workers amid the country's lockdown to control Covid-19, under which just 20,000 out of the targeted 135,000 Filipinos had received the money by end-May.

Unifil meanwhile said it would hold a "noise barrage" on Sunday against the terror bill.

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