Faith-based groups in the Philippines called for the scrapping of the country’s anti-terrorism law during the observance of Human Rights Day on Friday, December 10.
The groups lambasted what they described as “draconian laws and programs” of the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte that are allegedly used to attack activists and government critics.
The country’s Supreme Court on Thursday affirmed the legality of the anti-terrorism law but struck out two provisions for being violative of freedom of expression, among others.
The group Pilgrims for Peace, however, said it is “disheartening” that despite the number of petitions that questioned the legality of the law, the court ruled that it is not unconstitutional.
“The implications of this law remain frightening,” read the group’s statement, adding that the law still allows state security forces to conduct warrantless arrests, proscription, prolonged detention, freezing of assets, and other forms of violations of the people’s civil and political rights.
The group said in its statement that “terrorism” in the law is “still ambiguously defined.” The group said the existence of the law “is an obstacle to the attainment of peace.”
“Going beyond questioning the legal issues of the [anti-terrorism law], many peace-loving individuals and organizations maintain that the current regime is the biggest stumbling block in the pursuit of a just and lasting peace,” said the group.
Commitment to champion human rights
The National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), meanwhile, vowed “to champion human rights in the country and to work for justice and accountability for those who violate said rights.
In its Human Rights Day statement, the Protestant council noted the “situations of unpeace in the country,” which it said is “typified with staggering rights violations over the past five years.”
“Economic and cultural rights remained unmet, and thus, human suffering has become prevalent and extreme especially during the pandemic,” said the Church group.
It noted that in September, the Philippines had 4.5 million, roughly 8.9, percent, jobless Filipinos, one of the highest unemployment rates the country has experienced since January.
The 4.2 million Filipinos who considered themselves hungry in May was double the pre-pandemic average of 2.1 million families who experienced involuntary hunger in December 2019.
“Those who criticize and resist this condition of hunger, poverty, and inequality brought about by government’s anti-people policies are met with repression by the state which brings massive violations of civil and political rights of the people,” said the Protestant council.
It claimed that attacks against human rights defenders, including church people, escalated after the peace negotiations between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines was unilaterally terminated by the government in 2017.
“The pattern of human rights violations shows that the government’s counter-insurgency program has not only targeted armed combatants, but also unarmed civilians even amidst the pandemic,” read the NCCP statement.
The Protestant group said the human rights situation in the Philippines under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte is “calamitous.”
“As a Council of Churches, we are dismayed and disappointed by this alarming situation,” said the group.
“Nevertheless, despite attacks on God’s gift of human dignity, we will continue to defend human rights and pursue peace based on justice, where shalom and equality exist,” it added.
“As peacemakers, we will also continue to urge the government and the [communist rebels] to resume the peace negotiations,” said the Church group.