By John Ezekiel J. Hirro

President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday signed into law the widely criticized Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, which critics fear could be used as a weapon to silence government critics and dissenters.

Palace spokesman Harry Roque confirmed the signing of Republic Act 11479, saying the Duterte and his legal team “took time” studying the bill while weighing concerns of different stakeholders.

“Terrorism, as we often said, strikes anytime and anywhere. It is a crime against the people and humanity; thus, the fight against terrorism requires a comprehensive approach to contain terrorist threat. The signing of the aforesaid law demonstrates our serious commitment to stamp out terrorism, which has long plagued the country and has caused unimaginable grief and horror to many of our people,” Roque said in a statement.

Many sectors have expressed fear over the bill’s vague definition of terrorism, which they warned could lead to abuses human rights violations.

Lawyer Edre Olalia of the National Union of People’s Lawyers said his group would challenge the newly signed law before the Supreme Court.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR), among many, called for “effective counterterrorism” measures that also ensure the “protection of human rights.”

“While the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act attempts to align with these principles, its provisions are a cause for concern to CHR when viewed through a human rights lens,” it said in a statement.

Those pushing for the signing of the bill, however, insisted the bill had enough “safeguards” to protect dissenters and those exercising civil rights.

The Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 repeals the Human Security Act of 2007. Key provisions include:

  • warrantless arrests ordered by the Anti-Terrorism Council composed of Cabinet secretaries;
  • detentions of up to 24 days without charges;
  • surveillance of up to 90 days;
  • proscription of terrorist groups and organizations; and
  • designation of individuals and groups as terrorists.

It also removes the P500,000 daily fine on law enforcers for wrongful arrests, which proponents such as Sen. Panfilo Lacson claimed had rendered the Human Security Act toothless.

The Integrated Bar of the Philippines has said parts of the bill were unconstitutional, and recommended a veto.

Duterte’s chief legal counsel Salvador Panelo recommended the signing of the bill.

Duterte, whose presidency has been defined by a bloody drug war that has claimed thousands of lives, called for the immediate enactment of the bill on June 1 after certifying it as “urgent.”

Some 900,000 people have signed an online petition on to junk the terror bill.

Minutes after news about the bill’s signing spread on social media, #OUSTDUTERTENOW became the #1 trending hashtag on Twitter.