By Ben Rosario and Mario Casayuran
Voting 173-31 with 29 abstentions, the Senate version of the proposed Anti-Terrorist Act hurdled third and final reading in the House of Representatives.
Certified as an urgent administration bill by President Duterte, the passage of House Bill (HB) No. 6875 is the country’s response to the threat of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to put the Philippines on the “gray” list of countries that are non-compliant with international efforts to fight money laundering and terror financing.
Duterte certifying the bill as urgent shortened the committee and plenary deliberations.
Although at least seven bills were authored by congressmen to amend the current anti-terror law known as Human Security Act of 2007, the Lower House decided to adopt en toto the Senate version to avoid the conduct of a bicameral conference proceeding.
The FATF has reportedly given the Philippines until October to pass a more stringent law against terror activities and finance.
The center of objection is the provision that grants law enforcement agencies the authority to detain a suspected terrorist or accomplice to 14 days. The period of detention may be extended to ten more days by the Anti-Terrorism Council that will be formed by the national government.
The 1987 Constitution prohibits arrests without a warrant or filing of court charges against any person.
Critics also assailed the bill’s “broad and vague” definition of terrorism, saying this will grant government broad powers to harass or penalize even mere political critics.
“Binaliktad ang (It overturned the) basic justice principle, ang sinasabi (it says), Mr. Speaker, ‘you are innocent until proven guilty,’ pero dito sa (but here in the) Anti-Terror Bill, ‘you are guilty until you prove yourself innocent’,” said ACT Teachers Party-list Rep. France Castro in explaining her vote.
Minority Leader and Manila Rep. Bienvenido Abante said Section 9 which “introduces a new crime,” inciting to terrorism, is a “dangerous provision.”
Under this provision, any person may be charged with inciting to terrorism by merely delivering or creating speeches, proclamations, writings, emblems, banners, and other materials that tend to encourage terrorism.
Inadvertently included as a coauthor of the measure, Agusan del Norte Rep. Lawrence Fortun voted against the measure.
“I could not have joined as co-author of this measure because I believe that in our fight against terrorism, lawlessness, and disorder, it is essential to ensure that basic fundamental rights and freedom are preserved and protected,” he said.
Fortun described as “dangerous and alarming” a provision in the measure that penalizes with 12 years imprisonment membership in a suspected terrorist organization.
Anak Mindanao Rep. Amihilda Sangcopan warned that the bill might contribute to the so-called “Islamophobia” that unfairly treats many peace-loving Muslims with bias, discrimination, and marginalization.
Sangcopan noted the bill also no longer includes the fine imposed against wrongful accusation in the amount of ₱500,000 for each day of detention.
“With the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, this monstrous and evil legislation not only violates constitutional guarantees but also tramples almost all known articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” she noted.
Nueva Ecija Rep. Ria Vergara said the government is already armed with existing laws that protect the state against terrorism, citing the declaration of martial law in Mindanao during the Marawi siege as an example.
She warned that by approving the bill, Congress runs the risk of “committing unbridled interpretation of the Constitution and the law that could do more harm to the population that we aim to protect.”
Other acts punishable under the bill are recruitment to and membership in a terrorist organization; conspiracy to commit terrorism, planning, training, preparing, and facilitating the commission of acts of terror; threat to commit terrorism, and actual acts of terrorism.
Many lawmakers, including Reps. Robert Ace Barbers (NP, Surigao del Norte) and Sergio Dagooc (APEC Parylist) voted in the affirmative but aired their misgivings over questionable provisions of the proposal that may be open to abuse by the police and military.
Adheres to the Bill of Rights
Replying to criticisms, Senator Panfilo M. Lacson said, “As author and principal sponsor, I made sure that it adheres to the Bill of Rights as enumerated in the 1987 Constitution.” The Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 aims to secure the Philippines and protect its people from domestic and foreign terrorists like the Abu Sayyaf and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
“To the critics, I dare say: I hope the day will not come when you or any of your loved ones will be at the receiving end of a terrorist attack, so much so that it will be too late for you to regret convincing the Filipino people to junk this landmark legislation,” Lacson, chairman of the Senate national defense and security committee, said.
“Some of our country’s policymakers, especially our people, should know better than just criticizing and believing the massive disinformation campaign against a measure that can secure and protect us as well as our families and loved ones from terrorist acts perpetrated in a manner so sudden, least expected and indiscriminate — as in anytime, probably even today, tomorrow or next week,” he added.
Lacson stressed that he was always mindful of the Bill of Rights enshrined in the 1987 Constitution when he conducted the public hearings and sponsored the bill on the Senate floor last year up to February where it was approved on third and final reading.
“That said, I incorporated most of the provisions of the AntiTerrorism laws of other strong democracies like Australia and the United States, further guided by the standards set by the United Nations, save for the reglamentary period of detention in which we adopted the shortest time of 14 days – compared to Thailand with up to 30 days; Malaysia, up to two years; Singapore at 720 days extendible to an indefinite period of detention without formal charges; and Indonesia, up to 120 additional days. Also, safeguards have been put in place to ensure the rights of those detained,” Lacson explained.
“With the help of many of my colleagues who (conducted) interpellation and proposed their individual amendments, including all the members of the minority bloc, I was more than accommodating to accept their amendments as long as we would not end up with another dead-letter law such as the Human Security Act of 2007, which has so far resulted in just one conviction after more than a decade of its implementation and just one proscribed terrorist organization such as the Abu Sayyaf Group,” he added.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque assured the public that the certification of the Anti-Terrorism bill as urgent does not guarantee that President Duterte will automatically sign the measure as it still has to be evaluated and ascertained to be compliant with the Constitution. (With a report from Argyll Cyrus Geducos)