New counterterrorism law in the Philippines raises fears of repression

Demonstration against the new anti-terrorism law adopted in the Philippines on June 4 in Manila.
Demonstration against the new anti-terrorism law adopted in the Philippines on June 4 in Manila. ELOISA LOPEZ / REUTERS

The adoption on Wednesday 3 June by the Philippine House of Representatives of a new anti-terrorism law raises fears for the opposition, representatives of civil society and human rights organizations of new abuses of power by the populist president Rodrigo Duterte. Hundreds of protesters marched Thursday, masks on their faces, in the capital, Manila, which has emerged since May 15 from one of the longest and strictest confinements in Asia.

The law, which has already been adopted in the Senate and is to be signed by Mr. Duterte shortly, authorizes the detention of suspects for up to twenty-four days without a warrant and provides for the establishment of an Anti-Terrorism Council whose members, drawn from the government will have the power to order the arrest of those whom they consider to be terrorists. It replaces a 2007 law, the Human Security Act, which had a legal safeguard which allowed police officers to be fined up to 8,500 euros per day in the event of improper detention. This clause was removed in the new law.

The Philippines has regularly been the scene of attacks in the south of the archipelago by Islamist groups, such as Abu Sayyaf, who has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State organization. A clash in mid-April in Sulu province between fighters from Abu Sayyaf and the army led to the death of 18 soldiers. In 2017, an entire city, Marawi, in the Muslim region of Mindanao Island, fell into the hands of jihadists before the army laid siege to it and killed the leaders of the insurgency. The Philippine government is also facing a long-term armed communist rebellion in the countryside.

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“Dangerous power”

Since his election in 2016, President Duterte has nonetheless continued to be illustrated by serious human rights violations, in the form of arbitrary detentions and extrajudicial executions, in the name of the fight against drug trafficking and the defense of national security. Philippine Vice-President Leni Robredo, elected independently of the President, and leader of opponents of Mr. Duterte, denounced on Wednesday that a “Dangerous power was thus given to people who have no remorse for resorting to misinformation, inventing evidence, or silencing their critics on the slightest pretext”.

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Mme Robredo was briefly appointed in November 2019 to head Mr. Duterte’s drug campaign, with the ambition to find out about police abuses, but was sacked three weeks later for meeting with U.S. diplomats and United Nations narcotics experts. Mr. Duterte felt that she was a “Dizzy” who risked disclosing “State secrets”.

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