President Rodrigo Duterte called communists and leftists “terrorists” in a public address aired Wednesday, less than a week after signing the widely criticized anti-terrorism bill into law.

“They think that they are a different breed. They would like to be treated with another set of law, when as a matter of fact, they are terrorist,” he said of communist rebels.

Duterte said he had spent “most” of his presidential days trying to come up with a peaceful solution to end war, but for naught.

“I spent most of my days as a President trying to figure out and connect with them on how we can arrive at a peaceful solution. Wala namang gustong may giyera eh. Ako ayaw ko, lalo na ako. Kilala ko sila, kilala ako and it was a good rapport while it lasted,” he said.

The president said he no longer needed to “cultivate friendships” with communist and leftist groups as election time was past and his priority was the country’s security.

“There is always a time to be friendly and a time just to be firm. And I did my very best to produce something for the country. But unfortunately… [w]ala talagang nangyari,” he said.

“Iyong na-Presidente na ako, naiba na lang ang istorya simply because in the ladder of priority, the highest sa akin would be the security of the state,” he added.

Duterte signed the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 into law on July 3 despite opposition from human rights, legal groups and even international organizations.

In a June 22 public address, the president labeled terrorism as the “number one” problem of the country. He also said New People’s Army (NPA) rebels were worse than Abu Sayyaf and other terrorists of “no value.”

He then said he had ordered the armed forces to fight the communist rebels instead of being attacked first and retaliating.

Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, there have instances of troops being attacked, and some soldiers killed, while distributing aid.

‘Only terrorists should fear law’

President Duterte, in his first public address since the signing of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 into law, said only terrorists, not law-abiding citizens, should fear the measure.

“For the law-abiding citizen of this country, I am addressing you with all sincerity: Huwag ho kayong matakot kung hindi ka terorista,” he said.

“Pero once you blow up [a church], blow up mo iyong marketplace… the right to defend itself accrues to the government heavily,” he added.

The Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 repealed the Human Security Act of 2007 with stronger provisions.

The bill allows warrantless arrests ordered by the Anti-Terrorism Council composed of Cabinet secretaries; detentions of up to 24 days without charges; and surveillance and wiretapping of up to 90 days.

As of July 8, five petitions have been filed before the Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of the new anti-terrorism law. John Ezekiel J. Hirro