Jun 11 2020

Philippines #ArtistsFightBack Against Anti-Terror Bill

by Ashlyn Chak

Illustration by @vantetri. Image via Twitter.

A group of artists and creatives in the Philippines have joined forces in a campaign, “Artists Fight Back,” against a new anti-terrorism legislation that will allow for warrantless arrests and up to 14 days of detentions of suspected terrorists.

The controversial bill was first cleared by the Senate in February. On June 1, President Rodrigo Duterte urged for the passing of the bill in his letter to Congress, who voted in favor of it two days later. The bill was received by Duterte’s office on June 9, and he has 30 days to approve or veto it, after which it automatically becomes enforced. Nationwide demonstrations have broken out citing fears of oppression, state surveillance, and violation of freedom of expression.

The “Artists Fight Back” campaign released a joint statement to condemn “the swift and reckless passing of HB 6875 or The Anti-Terrorism Bill.” The letter raised concerns for the creative sector particularly with regards to its Section 9 (Inciting to Commit Terrorism), where “any person who, despite the lack of a direct part in it, incites others to commit or participate in acts that the bill considers as terrorist may be jailed for up to 12 years,” saying that “As artists . . . Our job . . . is to incite . . . to serve the truth, whether or not it is aligned or in accordance with the government’s stance.” The letter echoes outcries from opposition senators who cited “serious constitutional questions” regarding the “fundamental rights” of Filipino citizens, according to Al Jazeera.

At time of writing, more than 1,400 artists and cultural workers have signed the statement, including: Directors Guild of the Philippines, Inc., arts and media alliance Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity, poetry night series Ang Sabi Nila, LGBTQ+ group True Colors Coalition, and University of the Philippines Film Institute.

Some of the signatories have also advocated for the cause elsewhere. Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP) cohosted a virtual artists’ forum on June 8 to raise awareness, and published a “Junk Terror Bill Now” Instagram face filter with the text “I hate it when you call me terorista,” re-appropriating lyrics from Camila Cabello’s hit single Señorita (2019) along with the singer’s face. Nonprofit artist-run Green Papaya Art Projects, whose space was badly damaged in a fire on June 3, wrote on its Facebook page on the same day that the bill means “more rampant human rights violations and abuses of power.” 

Human Rights Watch criticized Duterte’s government on June 5 for the bill and for its history of targeting and prosecuting activists. According to a report from the United Nations Human Rights Office released on June 4, at least 248 activists were killed between 2015–19 in the Philippines.

Ashlyn Chak is an editorial intern of ArtAsiaPacific

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