The University of Santo Tomas (UST) has joined other prominent universities in rejecting the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, which only awaits President Rodrigo Duterte’s signature before becoming law.

“We fear that people’s basic civil rights as enshrined in the Constitution will be rendered inconsequential when this becomes a law,” UST said in a statement.

The Dominican-run university raised alarm over the bill’s enabling of warrantless arrests, detention without charge, and abuse by law enforcement agencies.

The university also called on the government to focus on fighting the Covid-19 pandemic instead, which has killed more than 1,000 Filipinos so far and forced the education sectors to shift to online methods of learning.

“We hope and pray that whatever decision our government will choose to make, it would be one that will truly unite the Filipino people especially during these challenging times,” the statement continued.

Faculty, student orgs also voice opposition

The UST Department of Philosophy also released a statement, saying the anti-terrorism bill could have an “adverse impact” on citizens’ political rights, due to some provisions which could be “weaponized” by abusive authorities.

“The reported extra-judicial killings and other human rights violations registered by the Human Rights Commission are reason enough to be apprehensive and be worried about the implementation of this proposed measure, even as the proponents of this bill in the Senate would like us to believe that there are ‘safety nets’ provided in it,” the UST philosophy department’s statement read.

The department also urged the UST community to “remain critical and not accept outright conformity as a prime virtue and dissent as a serious crime.”

The university’s student-run journalism society also warned the public of the “rushed” and “draconian” bill’s possible penalizing of free expression and legitimate dissent.

“It will pose a grave threat to press freedom and free expression and pave the way for a crackdown on individuals and groups that are critical of the government,” the UST Journalism Society said in a statement.

The statement cited the bill’s ambiguous definitions of terrorists and terrorism, which it said will allow the state to tag critics of the administration as “terrorists” to silence them.

“A stronger law against terrorism should not come at the expense of our rights and freedoms,” it added. John Ezekiel J. Hirro