By Martin Sadongdong
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Monday encouraged the critics of the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 to read the bill in its entirety and not just selectively focus on certain provisions.
Lorenzana noted that there seems to be a massive disinformation and misinformation campaign to stop the enactment of the bill.
“‘Yung mga sumasama lang diyan sa nag-o-oppose, pwede ba basahin niyo muna ‘yung anti-terror bill bago kayo sumama diyan? Dahil ‘yung mga lumalabas ngayon ay all misinformation and disinformation (Those who are joining the opposition, can you just read the anti-terror bill before you do? There are a lot of things going out now for misinformation and disinformation),” he said.
Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo was among those who have assailed the bill along with several lawmakers, human rights and cause-oriented groups, educational institutions and even the Catholic Church.
According to critics, the bill could be used to stifle dissent. They added that it could be prone to abuse by law enforcers and military personnel due to the “vague” and “broad” definition of terrorism.
Among the critical provisions in the bill, which seeks to repeal the Human Security Act of 2007, include an expanded definition of “terrorist acts;” an extended amount of time a suspected terrorist can be detained after a warrantless arrest (from three days to 14 days and extended by 10 more days); the removal of the P500,000-per-day-penalty for law enforcers who “wrongfully” detained a suspect later acquitted of terrorism; and the prolonged period that an individual’s communications be put under surveillance (from 30 days to 60 days and extended by 30 days more).
“Ang ini-emphasize ko nga noon pa ay there is enough safeguards, there [are] so many safeguards (on) civil liberties, ‘yung human rights ng mga tao. Hindi naman basta-basta dadamputin ng law enforcement agent ‘yung tao (What I have been emphasizing ever since is that there [are] soamey safeguards to safehuard the civil liberties and human rights of the people. The law enforcement agent could not arrest anybody easily),” he explained.
Under the law, an Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) will be created which would approve or approve the warrantless arrest of a suspect for terrorism crimes.
Concerns were raised as to why such decision lies on the hands of the ATC, which is under the Executive Branch, instead of being decided by the courts.
The ATC shall be composed of the Executive Secretary as the Chairperson; National Security Adviser as Vice Chairperson; and Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Secretary of National Defense, Secretary of the Interior and Local Government, Secretary of Finance, Secretary of Justice, Secretary of Communications and Information Technology, and Executive Director of the Anti-Money Laundering Council as its members.
“Remember that what we are talking about here is the crime of terrorism only. The ATC is deeply involved in the daily monitoring of terrorism and it would know if an application is warranted or not,” Lorenzana said.
” The courts, who do not monitor terrorism on a day to day basis, may not be able to determine if a warrantless arrest is warranted or not. Speed is needed to prevent terrorism that’s why the ATC was created,” he added.
The Defense Chief said terrorism will require extensive planning, procurement and making of various equipment and device before terrorists stage an attack, as he allayed fears that dissenters and those who will engage in mass protest and the likes may be labeled as terrorists.
“Terrorism is in a class of its own, ibang klaseng crime ito (it is a one-of-a-kind crime),” Lorenzana said.
“‘Yun ang gusto natin mapigilan hindi yung… Walang dapat ikatakot itong mga cause-oriented groups, hindi sila ang target ng anti-terror bill (This is what we want to stop, not the… These cause-oriented groups have nothing to fear because they are not the targets of the anti-terror bill),” he added.