General Gilbert Gapay, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), expressed confidence Wednesday that the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 will be implemented by the 150,000-strong military in a deliberate and responsible manner following the release of its implementing rules and regulations (IRR).
“We know how this law would greatly help us in building our confidence and poise in our operations. I am confident, and I know for a fact, that every man and woman of the AFP is responsible, accountable, and objective enough to enforce this law,” Gapay said in a statement.
He relayed his directive to ensure the proper execution of the Republic Act No. 11479 to the personnel of the Central Command (CentCom) during his command visit at Camp Lapu-Lapu in Cebu City last Tuesday.
“While we continue to contribute and help in the national efforts to curb COVID-19, our main priority remains to be our triumph in eliminating Communist Terrorist Groups and Local Terrorist Groups,” he told the soldiers.
Last week, the Department of Justice (DOJ), which is a part of the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC), released the IRR of the new law.
Among the critical provisions in the IRR includes allowing the ATC to post the names of suspected terrorists or terror groups on the Official Gazette or its official website as stated under Rule 6.5.
This reportedly did not sit well with some lawyers who have questioned the constitutionality of the Anti-Terrorism Act before the Supreme Court, saying that the suspects might be subjected to trial by publicity before they are even allowed to defend themselves.
Critics of the Anti-Terrorism Act earlier opposed its passage since they were concerned it might be used by law enforcers to “red tag” activists and government dissenters, but the military has since denied that this will happen.
The IRR also includes guidelines about the prolonged detention of a suspected terrorist without a warrant of arrest.
It also mentioned public activities which cannot be considered as an act of terrorism including advocacy, protest, dissent, stoppage of work, industrial or mass action, creative, artistic, and cultural expressions; or other similar exercises of civil and political rights.
However, the IRR adds that these public activities should not intend to cause “death or serious physical harm, endanger a person’s life, or to create a serious risk to public safety.” Otherwise, the IRR said that individuals who will be proven engaged in these activities may be held liable for the crime of terrorism.
“The IRR is only a reflection of the law and since the law is patently unconstitutional, as expected, the IRR is patently unconstitutional as well,” said lawyer Howard Calleja, who was the first to file a petition against the Anti-Terrorism Act.
But Gapay is sure that the soldiers will not abuse the law given the specific provisions in its IRR, especially since the campaign to eradicate terrorist and communist groups is on a full swing.
“While we continue to contribute and help in the national efforts to curb COVID-19, our main priority remains to be our triumph in eliminating communist terrorist groups and local terrorist groups,” Gapay said.
“[O]ur enemies are also taking advantage of these trying times to pursue their propaganda. We cannot let that happen. We must not let that happen,” he added.