The National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP) has expressed alarm over Philippine Anti-Terror Bill or Senate Bill 1083, saying it would infringe upon rights such as freedom of the press and of expression.

“This is, in effect, is government scaring people from exercising their basic rights. We reject this legislation for its horrendous implications on our people’s full enjoyment of the rights and liberties our Constitution guarantees,” the group said in a statement.

Efforts to pass the bill, which the group said should be known as a “Terror Bill,” amid the country’s fight against Covid-19, was a classic example of railroading.

The group said that it is against terrorism, “as all people should be,” but cited the government’s abuse of the “terrorism” label and how it had been used to “silence legitimate criticism and dissent” and trample on people’s rights.

“This bill, which is much worse than the repulsive Human Security Act of 2007, would negate so many of our rights, including those to freedom of the press and of expression, and institutionalize impunity with the removal of justifiably harsh penalties against abusive implementors of the law,” NUJP’s statement read.

NUJP also said the approval of the House of Representatives’ committees on public order safety and national defense and security was done to obey “the instruction of the House leadership… to somehow submit and approve today a bill that is similar to the Senate bill, because of the possibility of avoiding a bicameral conference.”

“We reject the flawed argument that the law lacked teeth because of restrictions on its enforcement. To the contrary, laws that would curtail people’s basic rights and freedom SHOULD impose severe restrictions AND penalties on abusive implementors,” NUJP said.

It added that even without the “Terror Bill,” legitimate organizations, including NUJP, have been accused by state agencies of having links to the communist rebel movement without proof, causing the killing of “so many people.”

NUJP said that these agencies have resorted to “half-truths and outright lies” to malign perfectly legitimate causes, such as protesting the shutdown of ABS-CBN.

“We call on Congress to do the right thing by the people you profess to represent and work for, and amend this legislation into one that puts primacy on the defense and respect of rights in the fight against terrorism.” John Ezekiel J. Hirro