Duterte signs controversial anti-terrorism law

Terrorist suspects can be placed under surveillance for up to 60 days, detained without a warrant, and imprisoned for up to 24 days. For civil society groups and the Catholic Church, the legislation could be used to limit freedom of expression. Government argues that it will help fight communist and Islamic rebels.


Manila (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte today signed into law a controversial anti-terrorism bill, which will come into force in the coming weeks.

The legislation broadens the definition of "terrorism" to cover incitement, something that civil society groups deem dangerous, as it could be used to limit freedom of expression.

The new law allows authorities to conduct surveillance of terrorist suspects for 60 days, to arrest them without a warrant, and to hold them for 24 days.

In the event suspects are acquitted of terrorism charges, they are not entitled to damages for wrongful arrest.

Business people, activists, academics and Catholic Church leaders had urged President Duterte not to sign the law, calling instead for a broader debate before approving the legislation, noting that the country’s real emergencies are the fight against COVID-19 and the economic crisis.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet also expressed concern about the legislation. In particular, she urged the Philippine government to include safeguards for people who peacefully criticise the authorities or engage in humanitarian activities.

According to the government, the law does not violate the rights of the people, and is needed to fight communist and Islamic rebels in different parts of the country.

Duterte has already been criticised at home and abroad for his war on drugs. Unveiled in 2016, this policy has caused thousands of deaths (up to 27,000 extrajudicial killings according to some sources).