By Ben Wilson
It is a disgrace that the Australian government has helped create the military and paramilitary forces in the Philippines that current President Rodgrigo Duterte is using to carry out large scale human rights violations.
Australia helped the President to frame the controversial national security law that is now being widely applied. Australian agencies gave “technical assistance,” with the drafting of the law, which is currently being challenged in the country’s Supreme Court and allows arrests without warrant, surveillance of target, and the jailing of suspects without charge for up to 24 days.
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.
Australia must stop doing this. It is the government and its agencies that are responsible. They should be held to account. The Australian community has never supported it and only a few know about this is going on.
Being a party to human rights violations in another country is unjustifiable. Australia must demonstrate its commitment to human rights in the Philippines.
Elmer Labog and Meryl Quero-Asa representing the Filipino KMU union federation in Canberra standing for human rights in the Philippines
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed Australia provided this “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.
“The Australian government has handled its international responsibilities poorly and it is deeply concerning to learn our government has aided Duterte’s brutal regime.”
A United Nations investigation last year lashed the Philippine government, demanding an end to extra-judicial killings and arbitrary arrests and the persecution of civil society groups.
The report found while the Philippines had a long-standing tradition of human rights advocacy and civil society activism, attacks on human rights defenders were “pervasive”.
The office documented the deaths of at least 248 human rights defenders, legal professionals, journalists, and trade unionists between 2015 and 2019.