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Junk the Terror Bill

Updated: 6 days ago

Dear Asian Youth,

1984 by George Orwell. While this novel may give you flashbacks to late-night study sessions for your sophomore year English class, it is becoming a harsh reality for many. In the novel, Winston Smith lives in a world where citizens have no right to speak, or even think thoughts that do not directly align with the government’s ideals. Every aspect of people’s lives is brutally controlled. The modern-day Big Brother, you ask? President Rodrigo Duterte (talk about foreshadowing!) While the Philippines is suffering as a result of Duterte’s response (or rather lack of response, as seen by the 24,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Philippines), Duterte attempts to control the narrative again in the face of growing criticism. This time, he fast-tracked the Anti-Terrorism bill through the Philippine House of Representatives—but don’t let the name deceive you, as the bill can and will sign the death certificate of Philippine democracy. The bill, received on June 9th, now sits on Duterte’s desk, waiting to be signed as thousands continue to march the streets to protect the remains of freedom in the Philippines.

Fittingly nicknamed the “Terror Bill”, this law would grant the government the right to label anyone as a terrorist, subjecting citizens to arbitrary arrests and long prison sentences if they belong to organizations that have displeased the president. The definition of terrorism would include actions that merely intend to result in “death or serious bodily injury”, "extensive damage and destruction" of infrastructure, or "intimidation of [the] general public”. It would also become a criminal offense to provoke others to engage in acts of terrorism, including protests and social media activism. Under this extremely broad and vague definition, any act of expression including speech, proclamation, and writing can be deemed “terrorism.”

In addition, anyone who criticizes the government can be arrested without a warrant. If the Anti-Terror Council finds you “suspicious”, they have the right to take you into custody immediately. To be charged without a warrant is a clear violation of constitutional rights: the Philippine Bill of Rights states that “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall be presumed innocent until the contrary is proved”. Furthermore, if someone is found guilty of supposed “terrorist activity”, they could be looking at a life sentence without the chance of parole. To make matters worse, this “Anti-Terror council” does not even constitute a court; instead, it is made up of government-appointed officials, of which most (if not all) are supporters of President Duterte and his policies.

However, as disappointing and unjust the bill is, I can’t say I’m surprised. Duterte has a history of resorting to militarized means to respond to national crises. Last year, the Philippines' Congress, filled with Duterte’s allies, cut 4 billion pesos ($80 million USD) from the nation’s disaster funds. And in January, after the carelessness in his administration's response to the Taal volcano eruption, Duterte simply cursed the volcano and threatened to “pee on Taal”. How classy of him! A few weeks later, when the nation struggled to defend itself against COVID-19, Duterte provided no resources for support and instead announced that he was looking for the “idiot” coronavirus because he wanted to “slap it.” Oh, but it doesn’t stop there. ABS-CBN, a popular Philippine media network, was