National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. on Saturday said that the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 will bring about a culture of security in the country.
“This Anti-Terrorism Act will bring about a culture of security that is based on legality, based on orderliness, and based on due regard for human life and human rights,” he stressed as he expressed the security sector’s gratitude to President Duterte for signing it into law.
“Kami sa security sector ay talagang nagpapasalamat sa ating Pangulo dahil tinupad niya ang kanyang pangako na bibigyan niya ng solusyon ang mga kaguluhan hindi lang sa Mindanao, maaaring sa buong Pilipinas, na dulot ng terorismo (We, in the security sector, really thank the President because he fulfilled his promise of solving the problems of terrorism not only in Mindanao, but probably in the entire Philippines), he said in a Laging Handa press briefing.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), which belongs to the security sector, was also elated with the signing of a “powerful statute.”
“We now have a powerful statute that provides law enforcement agencies the legal wherewithal to protect and defend our people,” said Major General Edgard Arevalo, AFP spokesman.
He said the AFP leadership, under General Felimon Santos Jr., expressed gratitude to the Commander-in-Chief “for his resolve in putting public security and general welfare his primordial consideration in enacting the law that specifically targets terrorists.”
The Anti-Terrorism Act seeks to provide stronger measures to counter terrorism in the country but critics claimed that the law could be used to stifle dissent.
Various human rights and causeoriented groups hit the “vague” and “broad” definition of terrorism in the act which, they said, could be open for interpretation and, thus, abuse by law enforcers.
Under the law, terrorism is described 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) Engage 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.
Individuals proven to have committed terrorist acts will be punished with life imprisonment.
The law also provides penalties for threats, conspiracy, proposal, and inciting to commit terrorism, recruitment and participation in a terrorist organization, and provision of material support to terrorists.
Safeguard against abuse
Senator Panfilo M. Lacson said the numerous safeguards under the Anti-Terrorism Act would make abuses in its implementation very costly for law enforcers to commit.
“A mere non-compliance with the immediate written notification to the judge of the court nearest the place of arrest, as well as the CHR (Commission on Human Rights), not to mention technical surveillance or wiretapping on suspected terrorists sans (without) judicial authorization from the Court of Appeals and more can send them to prison for 10 years, absolute perpetual disqualification from holding public office, dismissal, forfeiture of retirement and all other benefits should deter abuses,” Lacson stressed.
Not terrorist acts
The law also states that the following acts are not included in its definition of terrorist acts:
d) Stoppage of work
e) Industrial or mass action
f) Similar exercises of civil and political rights
The new law effectively repealed the Human Security Act (HSA) of 2007, which security and military officials described as toothless in the country’s fight against terrorism.
Among the critical provisions in the new law include an expanded definition of terrorism, an extended amount of time a suspected terrorist can be detained after a warrantless arrest (from three days in the HSA to 14 days and extended by 10 days more in the ATA); the removal of the ₱500,000 per day penalty on law enforcers who erroneously detained an individual; and the prolonged period that an individual’s communications be put under surveillance (from 30 days in HSA to 60 days and extendable by 30 days more in ATA).
No problem for law-abiding citizens
While Esperon acknowledged the issues raised by the critics, he assured that the new law has enough safeguards to prevent it from being abused.
He said he even encouraged them to question the constitutionality of the Anti-Terrorism Act before the Supreme Court to settle the issues once and for all.
“Yung pagkwestyon ng constitutionality sa Supreme Court ay karapatan nila. Hindi natin pipigilan ‘yan and we even encourage them (It’s their right to question its constitutionality before the Supreme Court. We will not stop them and we even encourage them),” Esperon said.
The National Security Adviser further maintained that the law specifically targets terrorists so lawabiding citizens need not to worry because it was created for them.
“Itong ating law-abiding citizen ay walang dapat ikatakot dahil itong Anti-Terrorism Law ay para sa kapakanan at seguridad ng law-abiding citizens. Ito ay ginawa para labanan natin ang terorismo (Law-abiding citizens have nothing to worry about because the Anti-Terrorism Law is for their sake and security. This was created to fight terrorism),” he stressed.
Meanwhile, Esperon said that the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC), which he will lead as a vice chairperson, has buckled down to work with the act seen to take effect on July 18, or 15 days after it was published on the Official Gazette on Friday, July 3.
Under the law, an ATC will be created to govern its policies.
The Council has the power to proscript individuals or organizations as terrorists, another provision seen as “dangerous” by critics.
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.
Esperon said the ATC is “ready” to meet to discuss the provisions of the law and its implementing rules and regulations (IRR).
“Handa na kami magpulong sa ATC with chair, si Executive Secretary [Salvador Medialdea]. Nag-usap kami kung kami makakapagpulong, pag-uusapan ang review ng signed law para magkaintindihan kami lahat (We are ready to meet with our chair, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea. We already talked to review the signed law in the meeting so that we understand each other [in its implementation]),” Esperon said.
“‘Yung crafting ng IRR kasi kailangan din ng Kongreso. Bago tayo makapag-aksyon sa isinasaad ng bagong batas, kailangan gumawa muna ng IRR na isusumite sa Kongreso dahil ang Senado at House of Representatives ay bubuo ng Joint Oversight Committee (The crafting of IRR is also needed by the Congress. Before we implement the new law, we need to have an IRR which will be submitted to the Congress because the Senate and the House of Representatives will create a Joint Oversight Committee),” he said. (With a report from Mario Casayuran)