CEED Statement on the Anti-Terrorism Bill

The Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED) joins the call for the rejection of the Anti-Terrorism Bill, which poses grave threats upon environmental work and the safety of environmental defenders.

The Philippines today is named as the deadliest country in the world for land and environmental defenders. There were at least 46 reported killings of indigenous peoples, farmers, conservationists, lawyers, and other environmental workers in 2019 alone – many of whom were extrajudicially sentenced based on unfounded accusations of terroristic intent. Since President Duterte assumed office in 2016 until 2019, there had been at least 113 reported environmental killings.

A recently published report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in the Philippines highlights that credible allegations of widespread and systematic killings are happening against the backdrop of the government’s overarching focus on public order and national security, including countering terrorism. The report states that “[t]his focus has permeated the implementation of existing laws and policies and the adoption of new measures, often at the expense of human rights, due process rights, the rule of law and accountability.”  

Under this climate of persistent impunity, President Duterte certified the enactment of the Anti-Terrorism Bill as urgent. The proposed measure expands the power of government to prosecute “terrorist acts” and conversely dilutes human rights safeguards and penalties for abuses. It provides an overbroad and vague definition of terrorism, allows warrantless arrests on mere suspicion, expands the period of warrantless detention from to as long as 24 days, lowers penalties for abuses committed by law enforcers, and completely removes any liability for the wrongful accusation of terrorism.

The provisions of the proposed bill alone are telling of how it could exacerbate widespread human rights violations experienced by environmentalists on the ground from both private and state actors.

We simply cannot trust that abuses will be kept in check, especially when penalties against such abuses have either been reduced or completely removed. Ultimately, at the root of this mistrust is the track record of the present administration characterized by inaccessibility of justice, a propensity to label individuals and groups as terrorists without credible basis, and a pattern of abuse of power, including unacceptable instances of vilification of dissent, police raids without warrants, and planting of evidence against alleged violators.

Filipinos already suffer greatly because of the coronavirus pandemic. While national security is paramount, it is doubtful that the Anti-Terrorism Bill could truly contribute to protecting it. Instead, it is more likely to serve as a floodgate to even more human rights violations and spread terror among members of the public. It is most crucial that our government constructively works for and with the people as we battle the health, economic, and ecological crises we face today.