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UN rights chief raises anti-terror bill’s ‘chilling effect’ on humanitarian work

This photo from the Viva Salud website shows a member of one of its partner organizations speaking with rural women. Viva Salud is an NGO an NGO “furthering the right to health and sovereign development”and has been financing programs of and building relations with Philippines-based organizations for decades.

MANILA, Philippines —United Nations rights chief Michelle Bachelet called on President Rodrigo Duterte to veto the controversial anti-terrorism bill citing a possible “chilling effect” on humanitarian work in the country.

“The recent passage of the new Anti-Terrorism Act heightens our concerns about the blurring of important distinctions between criticism, criminality and terrorism,” she said Tuesday.

Bachelet formally presented her office’s report on the situation in the Philippines to the UN Human Rights Council during its 44th session.

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Bachelet said that the proposed new anti-terrorism law “could have a further chilling effect on human rights and humanitarian work, hindering support to vulnerable communities.”

The anti-terrorism bill reached Duterte’s desk on June 9. If the president does not veto the proposed measure, which he marked as urgent but later subjected to his legal team’s review, it will lapse into law on July 9.

The UN official echoed the call of several human rights’ and lawyers’ groups on the looming new law as they cited provisions of the bill that are unconstitutional and prone to abuse.

Local groups raised the “vague” and “overbroad” definition of terrorism under the proposed law. They pointed out that while it “in essence” does not stop dissent and criticism against the government, the same section of the law states that this only applies if those activities “are not intended to cause death or serious physical harm to a person, to endanger a person’s life, or to create a serious risk to public safety.”

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Bachelet urged Duterte to refrain from signing it into law and instead “initiate a broad-based consultation process to draft legislation that can effectively prevent and counter violent extremism—but which contains some safeguards to prevent its misuse against people engaged in peaceful criticism and advocacy.”

The UN rights chair said her office is ready to assist in the review of the bill.

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UN member-states also raised the alarm on the shutdown of broadcast giant ABS-CBN and the “continued prosecution” of Rappler CEO and veteran journalist Maria Ressa and former researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr. for cyber libel.

Bachelet in her report also said the Philippine government’s war on drugs resulted in serious human rights violations, including “widespread and systematic” extrajudicial killings. — with reports from Gaea Katreena Cabico

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