MANILA — Opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros said Saturday she was looking into challenging before the Supreme Court the contentious anti-terrorism law that President Rodrigo Duterte approved this week amid fears it would be used to silence dissent.
The legislation allows Duterte to appoint a council that could order warrantless arrests of people it deems are terrorists. Suspects could be held up to 24 days without charge, which allegedly violates a 3-day limit set by the constitution, said Hontiveros.
"Kasalukuyang nagko-coordinate po ako sa iba't ibang grupo at iba't ibang sektor tungkol d'yan sa posibilidad na i-raise ito sa Korte Suprema," the senator told ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo.
(I am coordinating with different groups and sectors about the possibility of raising it before the Supreme Court.)
Progressive group Bayan Muna last month said it was "researching" its next legal step if Duterte approved the law in which the definition of terrorism is allegedly vague and could strengthen the government's campaign against critics.
Retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio in June also urged the public to "all work to have the objectionable provisions in the Anti-Terrorism Act invalidated by the Supreme Court or repealed by Congress."
The law defines terrorism as intending to cause death or injury, damage government or private property or use of weapons of mass destruction to "spread a message of fear" or intimidate the government.
Critics allege the legislation also strips away old safeguards, such as penalties against law enforcers for wrongful detention of suspects.
Hontiveros questioned the timing of the law's approval as the Philippines sought to contain the coronavirus pandemic, which has left some 7.3 million Filipinos jobless as cases breached the 40,000-mark.
"Imbes na maayos na programa laban sa COVID-19 pandemic, maayos na programa na pananggalang sa economic recession, ang inihain na 'solusyon' eto: magpasara ng media, magpakulong ng mahihirap plus ngayon magpasa ng anti-terror law na gagamitin nilang pangkitil sa ating mga karapatan," she said.
(Instead of programs to fight the pandemic and shield the country from economic recession, the 'solution' laid was closing down media, detaining the poor, and now passing the anti-terror law that would be used to kill our rights.)
"Makinig naman sana tayo sa mga Pilipinong nasa krisis ngayon," added the lawmaker.
(Let's listen to Filipinos who are in crisis.)
Sen. Francis Pangilinan, the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers and rights group Karapatan have also vowed to question the new law before the high court.
Since its passage through Congress, prominent Philippine business leaders, Muslims in the Catholic-majority country, and United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet have lobbied for Duterte to veto or refrain from signing the bill.
"By signing the anti-terrorism bill into law, President Duterte has pushed Philippines democracy into an abyss," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch.
"The law threatens to significantly worsen the human rights situation in the Philippines, which has nosedived since the catastrophic 'war on drugs' began 4 years ago," Robertson added.
In a report last month, the UN human rights office said at least 8,663 people have been killed in the drug war with "near impunity" for offenders.
Government officials say alarm about the law is overblown, citing provisions that exempt "advocacy, protest, dissent, stoppage of work... not intended to cause death or serious physical harm."
— With a report from Agence France-Presse