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Anti-terror bill untouched on Duterte’s desk as automatic enactment nears

President Duterte has until July 9 to either sign or veto the bill. Without presidential action by that time, the measure will lapse into law.

MANILA, Philippines — The controversial anti-terrorism bill remains sitting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s desk eight days before the much-criticized measure lapses into law.

Despite securing all the necessary legal opinions on the measure, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the Chief Executive has not acted on the bill. “Wala pa po,” Roque said in a text message when asked whether the bill has been signed.

“Let’s wait,” he said.

An inaction from Duterte, however, would not be good news for critics of the measure. Under the Constitution, the president has 30 days from receipt of the enrolled copy of the bill to approve or veto the measure, otherwise the bill would lapse into law. That month-long deadline would end on July 9.

The contentious anti-terrorism measure is being heavily criticized for the same reasons its predecessor, the Human Security Act of 2007, was slammed during the Arroyo administration. At the time, while the measure was passed, legislators inserted strong protections against potential human rights abuses on the bill, foremost of which was the P500,000 per day penalty for wrongful detention.

The current bill seeks to remove that, with authors like Sen. Panfilo Lacson saying that the hefty penalty has made the fight against terrorism ineffective. Critics disagreed, and said the planned amendments to the 2007 law would risk abuses if entrusted in the wrong hands of the police or military, criticized for their approach on the drugs war and activists.

There were other questionable provisions including a 24-day jail term for suspected terrorists without a proper case, the power of an Anti-Terrorism Council composed of Cabinet men and women to “designate” terrorists, and the bill’s potential chilling effect on valid dissent.

Supporters including former Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio say, however, dissent is specifically protected under the bill, but critics alleged the provisions stating such can be subject to many interpretations.

What’s more, the timing of the bill’s passage in Congress did not evoke any signs of goodwill, critics said. The measure breezed through the House of Representatives a day after the Duterte certified the bill urgent, allowing it to get passed into second and third readings on the same day


While public pressure— including June 12 Independence Day protests— forced around 16 legislators to drop support to the bill, congressional leaders were swift to transmit the proposed law to Malacanang for signature, in an apparent bid to stop any possible plans for withdrawal.

To temper criticism, the Palace has asked the justice department and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines for comments on the bill. The IBP expressed reservations over the extended jail time while still building cases. Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, meanwhile, refused to make public his legal opinion.

“Our main parameter is, of course, the Philippine Constitution,” Guevarra said in a text message.

How Duterte will act on the bill will not be the last the public will hear of the measure. Lawyers at the National Union of People’s Lawyers already said they are ready to challenge the measure before the Supreme Court as soon as it is passed. — with Kristine Joy Patag

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