Protesters gathered outside the Philippine Consulate General in San Francisco Monday, condemning a new anti-terror law in the Philippines they fear will be used to stifle free speech and target political opponents.
President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte signed a stricter anti-terrorism bill into law this month amid fierce opposition, aiming to battle insurgencies in the country. The law expands the definition of terrorism and creates a council appointed by the president with powers to designate individuals and groups as terrorists.
“The anti-terror law makes it so that Duterte can claim that any group acting against his interest is a terrorist group, which allows for him to use military and excess violence,” said Rene Revolorio, 20, a resident of Berkeley.
Holding placards that read “Junk terror law,” “Oust Duterte” and “Activism is not terrorism,” protesters marched from the Philippine Consulate General on Sutter Street to Post Street while chanting and playing the drums.
After the protesters made their way back to the Philippine Consulate General, a car caravan arrived and parked in front of the building. Other cars followed, stopping and blocking Sutter Street between Powell and Stockton streets.
“We can’t be scared because the fight has to happen no matter how tough government repression is,” said Frankie Ortanez, 26, a resident of Oakland. “We have to resist. As government intervention increases, so does our resistance. And that’s why we are here today despite the potential of us becoming labelled as terrorists when we go back home to visit the Philippines.”
The law criminalizes those who incite others through “speeches, writings, proclamations, emblems, banners …,” which could result in a punishment of 12 years in prison. It allows the detention of suspects without charge for 14 days, which can be extended to 24 days. The legislation includes the possibility of life imprisonment without parole.
Filipinos in San Francisco worried that the law would be applied beyond the borders of the Philippines. Malaya Arevalo, 40, a member of the National Secretariat of the Malaya Movement pointed to section 49 of the law titled “Extraterritorial Application.”
“It’s very vague. Filipinos in the U.S. haven’t received any word about how the anti-terror law will be implemented here abroad,” Arevalo said.
He added the community is hoping to better understand the role of the Consulate General in San Francisco and the Philippine National Police’s role in enforcing the law in the Bay Area. And a delegation has begun preliminary discussions with the Consulate General about the law, according to Arevalo.
The Duterte government has previously reassured that people’s political freedoms and civil liberties will be respected. And officials have said that the new law, which replaced the Human Security Act, will be more effective in addressing the threat of terrorism.
But critics were unwavering in their opposition to the law. “What they took away from the old law are a lot of the protections that were set in place to make sure there aren’t government oversteps, so that there aren’t violations of people’s human rights,” Arevalo said.
“Our demands have always been very clear: After four years of this president, enough is enough,” he continued.
The Duterte government’s poor human rights record has unnerved many Filipinos. San Francisco native Brandon Lee, who became an activist while studying at San Francisco State University, was shot in the Philippines last year in an attack believed to be carried out by the armed forces of the Philippines.
“While I am grateful that I’m alive today and supported by family and friends in San Francisco, the bullet that hit my spine not only caused me to undergo eight cardiac arrests, but it also left my body paralyzed and has severely impacted the quality of my life,” Melissa Reyes read a statement on behalf on Lee.
The government’s hardline anti-drug crackdown have struck fear among many. Widespread extrajudicial killings occurred. And the drug war has led to the deaths of at least 8,600 people since 2016, killings carried out with “near-impunity,” according to a report by the United Nations.
Supervisor Matt Haney, who visited Lee in the Philippines last year, said to the crowd: “What we’re calling on the Philippine government and the Duterte regime is to stop the state terrorism inflicted on the people of the Philippines, and instead, provide for the people. We are in the middle of a global pandemic.”