Philippine President Duterte signs ‘Anti-Terrorism Bill’ into law

National Democratic activists and allies denounce the Anti-Terror Law. Photo: Anakbayan Silicon Valley

On July 3, the president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, signed into law the Anti-Terrorism Bill of 2020, commonly known as the “Anti-Terrorism Law.” The bill, which broadens the definition of terrorism, takes effect July 18.

Historical context

The National Democratic movement in the Philippines has waged a struggle for liberation and democracy against three basic problems: imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucrat capitalism. It is the primary mass movement in the Philippines.

The Philippines has been in a state of revolution since the late 1960s and early 1970s with the beginning of a protracted people’s war. The re-founded Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army, have been fighting a civil war non-stop since 1969 for the liberation of the Filipino people. The Communist base of power has grown each year, and the NPA now has a presence in a majority of the provinces of the Philippines.

As this war developed, groups like Kabataang Makabayan (Patriotic Youth), an organization of youths and students, and MAKIBAKA (Struggle), a militant women’s rights group, organized mass protests, from January to March 1970, against then-President Ferdinand Marcos, who sought to consolidate his power by implementing martial law. The series of mass actions, known as the First Quarter Storm, saw millions of Filipinos take to the streets to challenge the dictatorship. These groups were later forced to go underground during martial law but continued their resistance against Marcos. While they were unafraid of the word “communist,” the legal implications meant death.

The protracted people’s war continued and alliances developed, including between the NPA and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, as the revolution increased in strength. However, in 1991, in the southern island of Mindanao, a faction split from the MILF called the Abu Sayyaf, an Islamic separatist group that engaged in bombings, extortion, drug trafficking, and assassination. In 2014, the group swore allegiance to ISIS. In 2016, the Philippine government bombed the city of Marawi, displacing thousands of people. Duterte implemented martial law throughout the island as a means to combat ISIS but, more insidiously, to stifle the revolutionary movement where its forces were most consolidated.

In the past two years, overseas Filipinos in the United States have fought tirelessly for the liberation of the homeland. Due to their efforts, the United Nations published a report on Human Rights in the Philippines and more than 300 people mobilized in Washington, D.C., to condemn Duterte’s crimes and war on the people. An episode of NBC’s Superstore had an entire plot line revolving around Duterte’s “War on Drugs,” exposing its violence.

Duality of the term ‘terrorism’

On one hand, communists and activists are fighting against an oppressive government that bows down to U.S. imperialism, passes legislation to consolidate land holdings, and seeks to enrich itself at the expense of the people. On the other, a sector of reactionary forces that harms the interests of the people has grown stronger.

In recent years, the Philippine government has waged an ideological war around the word “terrorism” to justify imprisoning its opponents. The Anti-Terrorism Law of 2020 is an amendment to the already existing Human Security Act of 2007. That bill, enacted by former-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, defined terrorism as “caus[ing] widespread and extraordinary fear and panic among the populace.” It was an effort to combat the growing Islamic militancy in the Philippines.

Duterte’s Anti-Terror Law broadly redefines terrorism to the point of absurdity. It criminalizes “terroristic intent” and removes existing accountability measures and barriers to government misconduct.

Although the bill states that it will not criminalize “advocacy, protest, dissent, stoppage of work, industrial or mass action, and other similar exercises of civil and political rights,” one must remember that the government can interpret civil protest as a means of inducing fear, intimidating the government or destabilizing the economy, all considered acts of terrorism. It includes “engage[ment] in acts intended to endanger a person’s life,” or “engage[ment] in acts intended to cause extensive damage to a public space or private property,” or “engage[ment] in acts intended to cause extensive interference with critical infrastructure [transport, information systems, technology, and so on; emphasis added].”

Some of the consequences

The following table lists acts to be penalized under the new law.

TerrorismLife imprisonment w/o parole
Threat to Commit Terrorism12 years imprisonment
Planning, Training, Preparing and Facilitating TerrorismLife imprisonment w/o parole
Conspiracy to Commit TerrorismLife imprisonment w/o parole
Proposal to Commit Terrorism12 years imprisonment
Inciting to Commit Terrorism12 years imprisonment
Recruitment to a Terrorist OrgLife imprisonment w/o parole
Membership in a Terrorist Org12 years imprisonment
Recruiting, aiding, being a foreign terroristLife imprisonment w/o parole
Providing Material Support to TerroristsLiable as principal+++

Another section of the law states:

Sec. 11. Foreign Terrorist. Anyone who commits the following shall suffer life imprisonment without benefit of parole:

a. Anyone who travels/attempts to travel overseas to commit or aid terrorism;

b. Anyone who organizes or helps those who travel overseas to commit or aid terrorism;

c. Anyone residing abroad who comes to the Philippines to commit or aid terrorism”

Further, the law appoints an “Anti-Terrorism Council,” which has the authority to designate suspects, conduct warrant-less arrests, and detain suspects for up to 24 days without formal charges. The Philippine government can surveil individuals’ bank accounts, personal information, and private communications for 90 days. Overseas Filipinos who have openly challenged Duterte’s corruption can be subjected to the same treatments.

Friendly relations with U.S. police departments

The Philippine National Police has fostered friendly relations with police departments around the U.S. through their Global Police Community Relations efforts. Historically, overseas Filipino activists in the United States have been assassinated by the Philippine government for speaking out. Last year, Filipino activists in the San Francisco Bay Area were targets of smear campaigns and outright harassment by the Philippine government. While non-Filipinos are not as threatened, the effects of harassment, surveillance and intimidation should not be dismissed.

The new law was passed because the ruling class trembles at the strength of the Filipino revolutionary movement. Rather than addressing COVID-19 ravaging the country, the U.S.-backed Duterte regime has opted to suppress human and civil rights.

Filipino activists at home and abroad have mobilized to fight these repressive laws and will continue to struggle for the liberation of their homeland from the vestiges of imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucrat capitalism. Activists in the U.S. must not only stand with them in solidarity but also link our struggles together. Their fight is directly related to our fight in the imperialist core. With the bravery and resiliency of the Filipino people, victory can be achieved in our lifetime!

Ibagsak ang tatlong ugat ng kahirapan! (Overthrow the three roots of poverty!)

Activism is not a crime!

Oust Duterte!


Further Reading:

The Philippines’ Broad Anti-Terrorism Law Takes Aim at Dissent

State repression in the Philippines during COVID-19 and beyond

Broad Coalition of Activists Vehemently Condemn Philippine ‘Anti-Terror Bill’ at Philippine Embassy, Washington DC

Advocacy, protests could be declared terrorist’ — lawyers

After Signing Anti-Terrorism Law, Duterte Names His Targets

A comprehensive document with more information

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