By Martin Sadongdong
Amid concerns of possible human rights violations, the Department of National Defense (DND) welcomed on Saturday the approval by two House committees of a proposed bill which seeks to toughen the country’s measures against terrorism.
The House Committees on Public Order and Safety and on National Defense and Security adopted on Friday the Senate version of the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 (Senate Bill 1083) to repeal the Human Security Act of 2007.
“The DND welcomes the approval by the House Committees on Public Order and Safety and National Defense and Security of a proposed bill which will strengthen the government’s response against terrorism,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in a statement.
The Human Security Act, or Republic Act No. 9372, took effect on March 6, 2007.
It aims to “protect life, liberty, and property from acts of terrorism, to condemn terrorism as inimical and dangerous to the national security of the country and to the welfare of the people, and to make terrorism a crime against the Filipino people, against humanity, and against the law of nations.”
However, Lorenzana said that the law “is no longer responsive to the evolving nature of the threats we face.”
“Hence, the need for a new law,” the Defense Chief added.
According to reports, the joint House committees, chaired by Masbate Rep. Narciso Bravo Jr. and Iloilo Rep. Raul Tupas respectively, voted 34 to 2 in favor of approving the Senate version of the bill.
Approved by the Senate in February, Senate Bill 1083 sought to “provide a strong legal backbone to support the country’s criminal justice response to terrorism, provide the law enforcers the much-needed tools to protect the people from the threat of terrorism, and at the same time safeguard the rights of those accused of the crime.”
The proposed bill was sponsored by Senator Panfilo Lacson, who, himself, had experienced dealing against terrorist forces as a former Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief.
The bill describes terrorism as any activity committed by any person who, within or
outside the Philippines, regardless of the stage of execution;
(a) Engages in acts intended to cause death or serious bodily injury to any person, or endangers a person’s life;
(b) Engages in acts intended to cause extensive damage or destruction to a government or public facility, public place or private property:
(c) Engages in acts intended to cause extensive interference with, damage or destruction to critical infrastructure;
(d) Develops, manufactures, possesses, acquires, transports, supplies or uses weapons, explosives or of biological, nuclear, radiological or chemical weapons; and
(e) Release of dangerous substances, or causing fire, floods or explosions.
Further, the bill described terrorist activities as acts that “intimidate the general public or a segment thereof, create an atmosphere or spread a message of fear, to provoke or influence by intimidation the government or any of its international organization, or seriously destabilize or destroy the fundamental political, economic, or social structures of the country, or create a public emergency or seriously undermine public safety.”
Opposition lawmakers argued that the definition of terrorism was “vague” and can be used in “red-tagging” activists who express dissent on government policies.
Bayan Muna Partylist Rep. Calos Zarate and Quezon City Rep. Kit Belmonte, the two lawmakers who voted against the House version of the bill, questioned the definition of terroristic acts which, according to them, may be prone to abuse.
Senators Francis Pangilinan and Risa Hontiveros, who also voted “no” in the Senate version of the bill, opposed some provisions of the bill that they feel would impinge on rights and liberty including the “vague and encompassing” proposed definition of terrorism, prolonged detention of suspected terrorists, allowing of the preliminary proscription of suspected terrorist organizations prior to their being given an opportunity to be heard, and lowering of the standard for warrantless arrest and detention.
According to a press release from the Senate which was posted on its website, the bill introduced provisions imposing life imprisonment without parole on those who will “propose, incite, conspire, and participate in the planning, training, preparation and facilitation of a terrorist act; as well as those who will provide material support to terrorists, and recruit anyone to be a member of a terrorist organization.”
Under the bill, any person who shall threaten to commit terrorism; who will propose any terroristic acts or incite others to commit terrorism; who shall voluntarily and knowingly join any organization, association or group of persons knowing that such is a terrorist organization; and who shall be found liable as accessory in the commission of terrorism, shall suffer a jail time of 12 years.
The bill also removed the provision on payment of P500,000 damages per day on law enforcers who erroneously detained any person acquitted of terrorism charges.
The number of days a suspected person can be detained without a warrant of arrest was also extended to 14 calendar days, extendible by 10 days, from a maximum of three days under the Human Security Act.
The bill also provides for the police or the military to conduct a 60-day surveillance on suspected terrorists, which may be lengthened to another non-extendable period of 30 days, from the original 30 days under the Human Security Act provided that they secure a judicial authorization from the Court of Appeals (CA).
On the other hand, any law enforcement or military personnel found to have violated the rights of the accused persons shall be penalized with imprisonment of 10 years.