Duterte’s anti-terrorism law challenged in Philippines’ top court

MANILA (AFP) – Critics of a new anti-terrorism law in the Philippines called on the country’s highest court yesterday to suspend the legislation, arguing it threatens human rights and freedom of speech.

The law approved by President Rodrigo Duterte last Friday gives the security forces sweeping powers to go after terrorists, but critics fear it could be used to stifle dissent and target government opponents.

Rights groups had called on Duterte to veto the law, which allows for a special council comprising members of his Cabinet to order the warrantless arrest of anyone they deem a terrorist.

It also allows for suspects to be detained for up to 24 days without charge and scraps heavy fines for law enforcers for wrongful detention.

The government argues the law, which was approved by Congress last month, is needed to combat terrorism in the country’s south.

In at least four separate filings to the Supreme Court yesterday, lawyers, professors and members of Congress called for the legislation to be halted before it takes effect later this month to allow for a judicial review and the removal of what they said are unconstitutional provisions.

“In a democratic society, security must never be attained nor maintained at the expense of human rights and civil liberties,” opposition lawmaker Edcel Lagman said in his petition.

The Supreme Court confirmed the filings. Other groups have expressed plans to challenge the law. Critics said the broad definition of terrorism in the legislation could strengthen Duterte’s campaign against critics.