MANILA, Philippines (ChurchMilitant.com) - Catholic religious leaders in the Philippines are decrying a new anti-terrorism law they say will smother basic human rights and freedoms in the country.
"At a time that our people are battling the effects of COVID-19, we find no reason to pass a law that does not serve to alleviate their miserable plight," reads a statement from the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines (AMRSP).
The AMRSP is referring to the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, which Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte signed into law late last week.
The new law amends the Human Security Act of 2007, expanding the definition of terrorism to include acts meant to cause "death or serious bodily injury to any person," and "seriously destabilize or destroy the fundamental political, economic and social structures of the country."
The law also criminalizes any facilitating of or inciting to terrorism through writings, speeches, banners and emblems and subjects suspects to surveillance, warrantless arrests and a possible 24-day detention without compensation if acquitted.
The maximum penalty for those found guilty is life imprisonment without parole.
"Unemployment, the closure of businesses, the continuing spread of the virus and the lack of relief for our people are the most pressing concerns at this time," the AMRSP statement continues. "In a previous statement, we have joined the voices of concern and opposition to this draconian measure that we firmly believe will stifle basic rights and freedoms."
Citing different portions of the new anti-terrorism law, the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers accused Duterte of "blatant disregard" for the country's constitution.
Lawyers and a congressman have asked the country's supreme court either to strike down the new law completely or in part, saying it violates the country's constitution and civil liberties.
Signed by co-chairpersons Fr. Cielito R. Almazan, OFM and Sr. Marilyn A. Java, RC, the AMRSP statement says the group supports these actions.
"We pray that the supreme court grants the petition for a temporary restraining order. We trust that the good women and men of the highest court of the land will be guided by the common good of all and by the Philippine Constitution," the group said.
"We implore them that in these gathering clouds of darkness, let the light of rule of law and ultimately, justice shine ever bright," the AMRSP added. "We ask all women and men of goodwill, fellow religious and all who cherish our rights and freedoms: Stand your ground and be with the poor and downtrodden! Truth, justice and peace will prevail."
International human rights groups have recognized the Philippines faces authentic security threats while noting the new law could be abused by labeling political opponents as "terrorists."
Duterte's hostility toward the Catholic Church and Her teachings is well documented.
In 2017, he backed so-called same-sex marriage in the Philippines, saying "The law says marriage is a union between a man and a woman. I don't have any problems making it marrying a man, marrying a woman or whatever is the predilection of the human being."
The same year, Duterte pushed free contraception, saying "Family planning in the country cannot maintain its momentum because you keep the people in total ignorance. You [the Catholic Church] tell the children that they will go to Hell. You always use that to scare them. But that is not true. Hell is here."
In 2018, Duterte mocked the Catholic Church outright, rhetorically asking "Who is this stupid God?"