Lacson says new anti-terror bill does not allow ‘warrantless arrests’

Published July 2, 2020, 5:38 PM

by Mario Casayuran

Senator Panfilo M. Lacson today rebutted criticisms aired by prominent Philippine and United Nations (UN) personalities against the controversial Anti-Terrorism Bill (ATB).

Senator Panfilo M. Lacson

Speaking at a forum organized by the Rotary Club of Manila, he firmly asserted that, contrary to the position taken by both retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Integrated Bar of the Philippines President Domingo Egon Cayosa, that the ATB gives the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) the power to order the arrest without judicial warrant of a suspected terrorist.

He also asserted that the proposed law follows the guidelines and standards set by the UN Security Council Resolution 1373, when asked about the appeal made by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, asking President Duterte not to sign the ATB.

‘’I think the UN SC members have read the provisions of this bill because sila nangulit sa amin dito. Unfortunately and I can safely assume that the one voicing her opinion against this measure, I doubt if she has read the provisions under the measure,’’ he explained. (They were the ones insisting on this.)

The rebuttal of Lacson, chairman of the Senate national defense and security committee is the same argument he expounded when he appeared before a recent forum organized by the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP).

The bill awaits the veto or approval of President Duterte. It automatically becomes a law when the President does not act on it within 30 days from its transmittal by the Senate and the House of Representatives. Senate President Vicente Sotto III submitted the ATB to the President last June 9.

Senators Francis N. Pangilinan and Risa Hontiveros, and human rights advocates are against the ATB.

In his speech, Lacson said that the written authority issued by the ATC under Section 29 of the bill is to be directed to its duly designated deputies such as law enforcement agents and military personnel specially tasked and trained to handle the “custodial investigation” involving violations of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 as proposed, considering the complexities and nature of terrorism. Not all police officers are trained interrogators and investigators, especially involving a crime as complex and complicated as an act of terrorism.

Lacson clarified the concept of “lawful custody” as follows:

‘’The term “custody” in Section 29 of the Anti-Terrorism Bill pertains to the lawful custody after a valid warrantless arrest pursuant to Section 5, Rule 113 of the Revised Rules of Court. It is only after a valid warrantless arrest that the law enforcement agent or military personnel, authorized in writing by the ATC, may conduct a custodial investigation. Section 29 does not – does NOT – amend the Rules on Warrantless Arrest. Section 29 seeks to amend the reglamentary periods stated in Article 125 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC) with regard to the crime of terrorism.

‘’To clarify this issue, I even wrote to IBP President Attorney Cayosa to correct his misconceptions on the authority of the ATC. In his letter-reply, he said that “Section 29 could not refer to allowable warrantless arrest under Rule 113 because anyone can actually effect a warrantless arrest under Rule 113 without any need for any written authority from anyone.”

Lacson observed that Attorney Cayosa remains adamant in his own interpretation of Section 29 of the ATB notwithstanding receipt of my letter addressing his concerns.

He also examined the statement made by retired Associate Justice Carpio in a Webinar organized by the MAP that Section 18 of the HSA, similarly worded as Section 29 of the ATB, was never declared constitutional by the Supreme Court.

‘’If such statement does not have the trimmings of malicious intent to achieve a purpose known only to its author, it may be assumed Justice Carpio overlooked existing jurisprudence and the presumption of constitutionality,” Lacson said.

Lacson pointed out that the Supreme Court ruled on the matter of presumption of constitutionality in Tano vs Socrates (GR No. 110249 dated August 21, 1997), to wit:

“It is of course settled that laws (including ordinances enacted by local government units) enjoy the presumption of constitutionality. To overthrow this presumption, there must be a clear and unequivocal breach of the Constitution, not merely a doubtful or argumentative contradiction. In short, the conflict with the Constitution must be shown beyond reasonable doubt. Where doubt exists, even if well-founded, there can be no finding of unconstitutionality. To doubt is to sustain,”  Lacson said.