Philippine president defends new anti-terror law

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte during a meeting with members of the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) at the presidential guest house in Panacan, Davao City, on Tuesday. (AP)
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Updated 09 July 2020

Philippine president defends new anti-terror law

  • Rights groups fear law will target critics, stifle free speech

MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday defended the country’s new anti-terror law, saying that law-abiding citizens had no reason to fear it.

The new law criminalizes acts that incite terrorism “by means of speeches, proclamations, writings, emblems, banners or other representations.”

The law also grants the president power to create an anti-terrorism council that could tag individuals and groups as terrorists; allows authorities to detain suspected terrorists without charge for up to 24 days; and permits the government to conduct 90 days of surveillance and wiretaps.

Speaking for the first time about the controversial legislation since it was signed on July 3, Duterte stressed that the bill would
be used to protect the country from terrorism.

“For the law-abiding citizen of this country, I am addressing you with all sincerity: Do not be afraid if you are not a terrorist, if you don’t destroy the government, blow up churches or public utilities ... just to see the nation fall,” Duterte said in a taped address.

He stressed that the new anti-terror law was a much-needed legal weapon that the government could use to fight terrorism, citing attacks in Mindanao which “have killed many people” and threatened peace and order in the southern part of the archipelago.

He described the country’s democracy as “a little bit shaky” and emphasized that it was his obligation to defend and protect the nation from those who intended to destroy it.

“Once you blow up a church, blow up a marketplace ... the right to defend itself accrues to the government heavily,” he said, adding that “if you kill people, I will really kill you.”

Duterte also took a swipe at the country’s communists, branding them terrorists for their continued rejection of the government’s call for peace.

“They think that they are a different breed. They would like to be treated with another set of law. When, as a matter of fact, they are terrorists,” Duterte said, lamenting that he had spent most of his days as a president “trying to figure out and connect with them on how we can arrive at a peaceful solution.”

The anti-terror law has been widely criticized, with many groups and personalities saying it is prone to abuse. 

As of Wednesday, five petitions had been filed before the Supreme Court, questioning its constitutionality and seeking a temporary restraining order to stop its implementation temporarily.

Among the provisions of the law being questioned by the petitioners are the definition of terrorism and the arrest of suspects without a warrant and their prolonged detention.

Rights groups described the new law as yet “another setback to human rights” in the country.

Bangsamoro Chief Minister Ahod “Al Haj Murad” Ebrahim said that the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) respected Duterte’s decision to sign the law.

He added that the BARMM was open to engaging with the government to address terrorism, recommending Bangsamoro representation in the Anti-Terrorism Council.

Bangsamoro leaders had previously called on Duterte to veto the measure to allow Congress to review and address some of the law’s controversial provisions but, since it has been signed into law, Ebrahim said: “We trust that the president will ensure that the concerns and apprehensions of the Bangsamoro people on some provisions of the law will not happen.”

The Anti-Terror Act will take effect 15 days after being signed into law.


Militant attack on Afghan prison frees hundreds

Afghan security personnel in front of a prison gate after an attack by Daesh that had freed hundreds in Jalalabad, east of Kabul, on Monday. (AP)
Updated 03 August 2020

Militant attack on Afghan prison frees hundreds

  • The attack, reportedly by Daesh, took place hours before end of cease-fire

KABUL: Militants have stormed a prison in eastern Afghanistan and released hundreds of prisoners, officials said.

The attack on the main prison in Jalalabad, in Nangarhar province, where several hundred Daesh fighters have been detained, began on Sunday afternoon with a car bomb detonated at the entrance to the jail.
The attack came hours before the end of a three-day ceasefire between the Afghan government and the Taliban, who immediately denied any involvement in the assault. Several Western media outlets reported that the Daesh had claimed responsibility.
The Nangarhar governor’s spokesman, Attaullah Khogyani, told Arab News that there was still gunfire on Monday morning, and that more than 20 civilians and personnel and three attackers have died in the fighting.
Two local security sources speaking on condition of anonymity said that nearly half of the prison’s 1,500 inmates managed to flee.
They said 20 assailants made their way into the prison and a number of explosions were heard from inside the jail.
Residents said one group of attackers was firing on the jail from a nearby building and they reported heavy and sustained exchanges of small fire.
According to Khogyani, most of the escapees have been caught. He gave no further details about the attack.
The assault comes amid official claims that Daesh leaders have been arrested or killed in recent months, notably in Nangarhar, which used to be the group’s bastion.
“This is a major embarrassment for the government, which every now and then claims to have wiped out or paralyzed the Daesh. The government needs to answer why such a high security lapse has happened,” analyst Shafiq Haqpal said.
The Eid Al-Adha ceasefire between the Taliban and Afghan government forces was a part of efforts to begin long-awaited peace talks following a US-Taliban agreement signed in Qatar in late February.
In accordance with the deal, the Taliban is releasing 1,000 Afghan troops in exchange for 5,000 militants held by President Ashraf Ghani’s government.
The process is near completion, but Kabul is refusing to free 400 remaining Taliban inmates, saying they have been behind “heinous crimes.”
After Eid prayers on Sunday, Ghani announced he would summon a traditional grand assembly, Loya Jirga, to help him decide whether the rest of Taliban prisoners should be freed.
The assembly is scheduled to start on Aug. 7. Loya Jirga has deep roots in Afghan history and tradition and is usually summoned during times of crisis or emergency.
The Taliban have voiced their opposition to the convocation of the jirga. Their Qatar-based spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, told TOLO News that Kabul’s decision would only complicate the peace process.
Afghan politicians are divided on the jirga announcement. Hamidullah Tokhi, a member of parliament from southern Zabul province, said: “The nation and parliament have deep doubts about Ghani’s goal for summoning the jirga to decide over the fate of 400 Taliban.
“All of the 4,500 Taliban already freed were involved in some sort of bloody attacks. Why did the government not ask for the jirga on the overall release of the Taliban?”
“Summoning the jirga now is a treason to this country and a clear blocking of the peace process,” he said.
Torek Farhadi, who served in the previous government as an adviser, said Ghani hopes that the victory of Democrats in the upcoming US elections, would sideline Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy for Afghanistan who struck the Qatar deal with the Taliban, allowing Kabul to be in charge of the peace process.
“We should have one Loya Jirga to discuss substantive matters on peace with the Taliban and the type of future regime,” Farhadi said, adding that the Taliban, too, should participate in the assembly. “This meeting would be like a half-baked national dialogue (if it is) conducted by only one side of the conflict.”