Australia helped draft Philippine law dubbed ‘a human rights disaster’
Anthony Galloway

By Anthony Galloway

February 18, 2021 — 11.58am

Australia helped the Philippine government draft a controversial national security law that human rights groups fear will be used by President Rodrigo Duterte’s regime to suppress voices of dissent and prosecute political opponents.

Australian security agencies gave “technical assistance” with the drafting of the law, which is currently being challenged in the country’s Supreme Court and allows for the jailing of suspects without charge for weeks.

Rodrigo Duterte’s government
has been criticised over its human rights record.

The law came into effect last year just as President Duterte’s government was battling outbreaks of COVID-19 and arresting people for not complying with a lockdown.

Civil society groups warn the Anti-Terrorism Act draws no lines between dissent and terrorism and provides Philippine security agencies with too much power to detain people without an arrest warrant.

It allows for the surveillance, warrantless arrest and detention of suspects for up to 24 days.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed Australia provided “technical assistance” over three years to help with the development of the legislation.

“This assistance has sought to bring Philippine counter-terrorism legislation to modern international standards, including consistency with UN guidance,” DFAT said in response to a question on notice from Senate estimates.

Human Rights Watch’s Australian director Elaine Pearson said she could understand why the Australian government wanted to provide technical assistance, but “the end result has been a human rights disaster”.

“It does not meet international standards. In fact, the Anti-Terrorism Act is so bad that it has been widely criticised by UN experts and there are multiple legal challenges in the Philippines against it.” she said.

“The new Anti-Terrorism Act unfortunately weakens existing human rights safeguards, broadens the definition of terrorism to something hopelessly vague and expands the period of detention without a warrant from 3 days to 14 days which can then be extended for another 10 days.”

“The Australian government should be pressing the Philippine government to repeal the law and replace it with one that meets international standards.”

Ms Pearson said the Anti-Terrorism Act replaced another law that was also “deeply problematic”.

Australian Greens foreign affairs spokesman Janet Rice said Mr Duterte’s government had a “long and terrible history of silencing critics”.

“Duterte has carried out thousands of brutal attacks, including extra-judicial killings, against human rights defenders, activists, journalists and indigenous peoples,” Senator Rice said.

“This anti-terrorism law is another weapon to quash dissent and arbitrarily detain anyone deemed by Duterte to be an enemy of the state.