‘Human Security Act amendments, a threat to freedom of expression’

The NUJP said that while it was important to secure the country and the people from the threats of terrorism, the bill would only do more harm than good by pushing the people to surrender their rights and liberties as citizens of a democratic country.


MANILA — The Senate is pushing the amendments to the Human Security Act or Republic Act 9372 at the resumption of the sessions in Congress after its initial break in February.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said that unless another bill takes his attention, the bill seeking to amend the Human Security Act of 2007 is expected to be passed before the sessions adjourn in three weeks.

The Senate Bill No. 2204, or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2019 plans to redefine the acts of terrorism that are punishable by law. While the Senate defines the bill as ‘pro-people measure,’ several human rights groups think otherwise.

Human rights alliance Karapatan expressed concern on the railroading of the HSA amendments along with other “anti-human rights bills” such as the lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility, mandatory Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), among others.

Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said that it seemed like the administration is hell-bent on passing the policies that would only constrict what little democratic freedom is left in the country.

In an earlier statement, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) shares the same view and said that the amended HSA would only give government authorities a license to commit human rights violations.

READ: Proposed amendments to Human Security Act and Duterte’s state terror

Abridging the freedom of expression

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) has pointed out early on how the proposed amendments endanger the right to free press and free expression.

In a position paper submitted to the Technical Working Group on June 18, 2018, the NUJP enumerated the provisions that may be used against the people’s right to information, the freedom of expression, as well as freedom of the press.

Libel, as defined in Republic Act 10175, or the Cybercrime Law, is to be included as a predicate crime on terrorism.

The NUJP maintained that including libel and the Cybercrime Law a predicate crime to the crime of terrorism would only endanger journalists the most, and as a result would make libel ‘an even stronger law.’

Media groups have in fact been campaigning for the decriminalization of libel for so long now, as it has become a tool of harassment against journalists. They have also opposed the implementation of Cybercrime Law especially now that most media outfits have been migrating online.

The NUJP also questioned the broad definition of the terms under Section 5, particularly the definition of the provision for inciting and glorification of terrorism, as well as using ‘life imprisonment’ as penalty for a lighter offense such as ‘inciting and glorifying’ terrorism.

With such vague definitions, NUJP is concerned that state forces would use the loose definition as a way to harass and incriminate members of the press that would write something about ‘terrorism’ and misconstruct it as a tool of inciting or glorification.

Journalists engage with different sectors, including those who the government would tag as ‘terrorist’, as part of their job to deliver the truth to the general public. With this bill, journalists who refuse to disclose information about these suspected ‘terrorists’ could also be put under fire and tagged as an accomplice or an accessory to terrorism.

Additionally, Section 5 also includes ‘membership of terrorist organizations,’ and said that ‘any person who shall knowingly become a member’ of terrorist groups should suffer the penalty of life imprisonment.

State forces and agents have been tagging legal organizations, including NUJP, as terrorist fronts, and enemies of the state for being vocal critics of the current administration. NUJP said that passing this bill would only make media organizations more vulnerable to harassment.

The bill also has a provision that would allow the authorities to ‘track down, tap, listen to, intercept, and record communications, messages, conversations, discussions, or spoken or written words [of any person suspected of the crime of terrorism].’

The NUJP said this is “a blatant invasion of privacy that would not only endanger the rights of journalists but of the people as well.”

The organization also said that the 30-day period of detention for persons suspected of the crime of terrorism is way too long and opens so many potential abuses of basic human rights. If this is to be passed, journalists especially the known critics, would be the first to be targeted.

Another provision creating the social media section to “counter violent extremism in social media” would, according to the NUJP, only give the Department of Information and Communication Technology the power to incriminate anyone who the department deemed “inimical to national interest.”

“The proposal is one of a number of suggested amendments to the law that pose threats to our civil liberties, including freedom of expression and of the press,” the group said.

The NUJP said that while it was important to secure the country and the people from the threats of terrorism, the bill would only do more harm than good by pushing the people to surrender their rights and liberties as citizens of a democratic country.

The bill, if passed, would make sure that any rally, visual performance, media campaign, and critical writing that shows an ounce of opposition could very well be labeled as a ‘terrorism act,’ abridging the rights of the citizens for expression, assembly and organization.

Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity (LODI) Arts and Media Alliance said that the bill is the Duterte administration’s way of showing intolerance to dissent, and would as an effect endanger artists and media workers as well as the citizens exercising their rights to free expression.

“His new policies intend to cultivate fear, silence critics, and punish those who refuse to surrender the right to free expression and the press, and other civil liberties enshrined in our Bill of Rights,” LODI said. (https://www.bulatlat.com)

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