The Embassy welcomes the gatherings with reference to Philippine Republic Act (RA) 11479 or the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA). The Philippine Government remains committed to the exercise of our freedoms guaranteed under Philippine national legal frameworks and international law. Likewise, The Embassy sees this as an opportunity to be able to explain the facts fundamental to this issue.

While Southeast Asia in general has been grappling with terrorism, the Philippines has been among the countries most affected by this menace. It has struggled with terrorism for decades and multiple elements are even taking advantage of this pandemic to sow terror. Threats originate, among others, not only from

• the Maute Group a.k.a. the Islamic State of Lanao;
• the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) linked before with Al-Qaeda, now to Islamic State;
• pro-IS Bangsamoro Freedom Fighters (BIFF);
• external extremist networks themselves like ISIS and the Southeast Asian terror group, Jemaah Islamiyah; but also from
• the New People’s Army (NPA) of the Communist Party of the Philippines, National Democratic Front (CPP-NDF) which is listed as a terrorist organisation by the US, EU, UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.

It is apparent that quick fixes will not work. The Government, which has the duty to protect the security and integrity of the nation and safeguard its citizens from savagery and ruthlessness a more long-term, comprehensive and integrated strategy in countering violent extremism (CVE).

The ATA aims to protect life, liberty, and property from domestic and foreign terror attacks deemed as “inimical and dangerous to the national security of the country and to the welfare of the people…the State recognizes that the fight against terrorism requires a comprehensive approach, comprising political, economic, diplomatic, military, and legal means duly taking into account the root causes of terrorism without acknowledging these as justifications for terrorist and/or criminal activities”.

It adheres to the Bill of Rights enumerated in the 1987 Constitution and incorporates provisions of similar legislations of other strong democracies like NZ, Australia and the US, which are guided by the standards set by the United Nations (UN).

It has safeguards against abusive, erroneous, and unlawful acts, e.g., provisions where charges or actual enforcement of the bill’s provision by its implementers will be subject to quick, effective, and a full review by independent courts in the country.

RA 11479 clarifies that advocacy, protest, dissent, stoppage of work, industrial or mass action, and other similar exercises of civil and political rights not intended to cause death or serious physical harm to a person or to create a serious risk to public safety are not considered terror acts.

The ATA also emphasizes that humanitarian acts undertaken by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Philippine Red Cross, and other state-recognized impartial humanitarian partners or organizations in conformity with the International Humanitarian Law are not punishable.

Law enforcement agency or military personnel may “secretly wiretap, overhear and listen to, intercept, screen, read, surveil, record or collect” any private communications, conversation, discussions, data, information, and messages among suspected terrorists but upon written order of the Court of Appeals.

“Surveillance, interception, and recording of communications between lawyers and clients, doctors and patients, journalists and their sources, and confidential business correspondence shall not be authorized.

The ATA also ensures that the use of torture and other “cruel, inhumane, and degrading” treatment or punishment against detained suspected terrorists is “absolutely prohibited.”

It said anyone who tortures or intimidates suspected terrorists would be penalized.

It added that there should be “due regard” for the welfare of any suspects who are “elderly, pregnant, persons with disability, women, and children,” while they are under investigation, interrogation, or detention.

The Embassy respects the freedom of expression. But we also ask that critics actually read the ATA’s text. The ATA should be assessed fairly and objectively. We urge everyone not just to read it but to closely examine its provisions. The full text is published in the Philippine Government’s Official Gazette ( Maraming salamat po.