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Protesters wearing face masks and shields carry anti-terror bill placards as they march at a university campus in Manila on June 12, 2020. Photo: Miggy Hilario/AFP via Getty Images.
Protesters wearing face masks and shields carry anti-terror bill placards as they march at a university campus in Manila on June 12, 2020. Photo: Miggy Hilario/AFP via Getty Images.

Filipino Artists Unite to Fight New Anti-Terror Bill

A group of artists, designers, filmmakers, writers, and other cultural workers in the Philippines have banned together to protest a new anti-terror bill that will allow the government to infringe on their civil liberties. They have launched an #ArtistsFightBack campaign and wrote a letter condemning the new legislation that has been signed by more than 1,500 people.

“We, the signatories of this statement, have done our duty as citizens by studying the bill and discussing it amongst our peers and lawyers alike,” the letter reads. “It is clear: The Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 is filled with provisions that make it problematic and prone to abuse.”

The controversial bill, which was passed by the Senate in February, was also approved by Congress earlier this month and is expected to be signed into law by President Rodrigo Duterte. The head of state received the bill on June 9 and has thirty days to veto or enact the legislation.

Human rights activists fear that the government will use the legislation to crack down on dissenters. If enforced, it will give the authorities the power to arrest people without warrants and hold them in detention for more than three weeks without charge. It also defines terrorism broadly and allows the police to put anyone or any group under surveillance.

Additionally, the letter points to one section of the legislation that could stifle artistic freedoms: Section 9, which declares that people will be jailed for inciting terrorism. “As artists, we are vulnerable to the subjectivity and the impreciseness of this section,” the letter reads. “Our job, quite literally, is to incite. To trigger emotion and to question. To move. To mobilize. Our responsibility is to serve the truth, whether or not it is aligned or in accordance with the government’s stance.”

“We encourage our fellow Filipinos to honor their voices by not keeping quiet in the advent of oppression: reach out to our lawmakers and tell them why we are against this dangerous bill. We remind our legislators: the public gave you your seats. We demand that they be used in their service.”

Signatories of the letter include the following groups: Concerned Artists of the Philippines; Directors Guild of the Philippines, Inc.; Filipino Students’ Association; Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity; the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines; the True Colors Coalition; and University of the Philippines Film Institute.

Despite the restrictions on public gatherings due to the Covid-19 pandemic and police warnings that anyone not abiding by the safety measures would be arrested, on Friday, more than one thousand people participated in demonstrations against the bill, which has been called unconstitutional. The protesters held signs reading, “Junk Terror Bill!” and “Activists Not Terrorists!” Protester Ana Celestial told the Jakarta Post that she feared the bill would be the “death of democracy for all of us.”

The sweeping legislation, which also scales back the penalties government officials face if someone is proven to have been unlawfully detained or to have had their rights violated, has prompted the United Nations to release a scathing report that found that thousands of Filipinos have been killed by the police in Duterte’s drug war since he was elected in 2016. According to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, 5,601 persons were killed between July 1, 2016 and January 31, 2020, but government agencies have reported conflicting numbers. However, the UN report states that killings were widely underreported and that the death toll could be much higher.