By John Ezekiel J. Hirro

Faculty members of the Political Science Department of De La Salle University (DLSU) on Tuesday urged President Rodrigo Duterte to veto the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, saying the bill provides an ambiguous definition of terrorism that may be abused by authorities and endanger citizens’ democratic rights.

In a statement, the DLSU faculty said the proposed law does not provide distinction between covert and overt acts of terrorism, which makes possible penalizing the mere exercise of civil and political rights.

“The broad definition of terrorism under the proposed law therefore blurs the line between being an active citizen and being an enemy of the state,” the statement read.

Even if the bill states that terrorism “does not include advocacy, protest, dissent, stoppage of work, industrial or mass action and other similar exercises of civil and political rights,” covert acts of terrorism stated in the bill are not distinguishable from similar “legitimate” expressions of rights, the faculty said.

“A much-improved anti-terrorism legislation should be able to provide remedies to the defective provision in order to prevent confusion and potential abuse,” it said.

The DLSU political science faculty also found “unconstitutional and fundamentally defective provisions” in the bill, such as the possibility of warrantless arrests and detentions, which violate due process of law and court rules on such arrests.

Only in times of public emergency or war could 14 to 24 days detention without charges in court be appreciated, the faculty said.

Manufacturing false evidence and situations may also be used to tag legitimate dissenters as terrorists, and the autonomy given to the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) to authorize warrantless arrests and detention of persons under mere suspicion “potentially diminishes the role of the judiciary in determining the lawfulness of arrests.”

The statement said there could be better legislation for the security and public safety sectors to unambiguously fight terrorism in the country.

“The proposed Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 subverts the constitution and relevant existing laws of the country… and endangers the fundamental rights and liberties of the Filipino in the name of counterterrorism,” the statement read.

“In view of our findings, we strongly urge President Rodrigo Duterte to veto the current version of the proposed [bill]. The Filipino people deserves a better law that promotes national security and counterterrorism.”

The controversial bill was transmitted to Malacañang on Tuesday after being signed by leaders of both houses of Congress, and only needs Duterte’s signature to become law.

However, the bill can become law even without Duterte’s signature, if he does not sign a bill within 30 days from receipt of his office.