The beginning of June saw the draft Anti-Terrorism Bill 2020 passed through the Philippines House of Representatives and the Senate, now only waiting for President Duterte to pass the bill into law. This bill has caused rising concerns over its threat to the enjoyment of human rights due to its broad and vague definitions of terrorism permitting warrantless arrests, surveillance of those suspected as terrorists and threatening “long prison sentences for people or representatives of organisations that have displeased the president” including progressives and dissenters to the President and government .
These measures have invoked anxieties for those working on humanitarian services, as they fear being tagged as terrorists, consequently impacting refugee access to humanitarian aid. The vague definitions of who and what constitutes as a ‘terrorist act’ may target asylum seekers coming from countries that the Philippines identify as ‘high-risk states’, particularly from the MENA region, therefore may not grant full access to asylum due to being wrongly suspected as terrorists.
Although refugees and asylum seekers are currently allowed to work without a Work permit and have businesses under their names, the Philippine Government currently does not give any financial aid to refugees and asylum seekers. The Covid-19 Lockdown has cause majority of refugees to have lost their jobs and businesses, meaning many humanitarian organisations such as the Philippine Arab Cooperation to be working to provide services and financial support for those that have lost their livelihoods and cannot afford food and medicines.
Refugees are now in the state of fearing the ‘unknown future’ of post COVID-19 lockdown. The Philippine Arab Cooperation are encouraging refugees to diversify their work and business in the Agricultural sector as the Philippine government are calling for citizens to invest in the Agricultural sector in order for the nation to become self-reliant on food supply and is offering help and assistance to those interested in this field.
The Philippine Arab Cooperation have further worked on encouraging refugees of how to help themselves during the Quarantine period such as taking up jobs cooking food, making and selling face-masks and vitamins to the Arab community and advertising it over virtual community groups. Those who own vehicles have also grouped themselves and are offering delivery services for the produces being sold to the Arab community and taxi services.
Other NGOs such as the Philippine Red Cross are further working to donate and distribute relief goods to those most in needs, as well as providing medical supplies to hospitals and augmenting testing and quarantine centres.
The Philippine Arab Cooperation Council Inc.
Commission on Human Rights of Philippines