Questions, fears over ‘human rights violations’ as Senate OKs new Anti-Terrorism bill

February 28, 2020 - 3:59 PM
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Marawi's ruins
Dilapidated structures are seen at the most affected war-torn area of Marawi City, Lanao del Sur province, Philippines, May 11, 2019. (Reuters/Eloisa Lopez/ TPX images of the day)

Some provisions on the proposed amendment of Anti-Terrorism Act recently approved by the Senate, prompted concerns that it can lead to “human rights violations” due to its supposed vague definition of “terrorism.”

On Wednesday, the Senate approved on third and final reading the proposed Senate Bill No. 1083 or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 with a vote of 19-2. Opposition Senators Risa Hontiveros and Francis Pangilinan were the only dissenters of the bill.

The proposed legislation seeks to repeal and amend the Human Security Act of 2007 or Republic Act 9372, the country’s existing legislation against terrorism, which lawmakers said lacked “teeth” and legal backbone.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who sponsored the bill, said that the HSA did “virtually nothing” to prevent the plotting of terrorism acts in the country.

“We need a strong legal structure that deals with terrorism to exact accountability, liability and responsibility. Those who have committed, are about to commit, or are supporting those who commit terroristic acts should be prosecuted and penalized accordingly,” Lacson said.

Several Filipinos, however, criticized the Senate’s move, saying there are provisions on the bill that violate the Filipinos’ constitutional human rights.

Twitter user Bran Macasaet or @Prof_Hound shared how the definitions of terrorist acts hardly differ from one another.

“Anti-terrorism bill hardly distinguishes different stages of the commission of terrorist acts from one another. Mere membership to proscribed org equals life imprisonment,” the user tweeted.

Former Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño argued that these amendments merely expanded the term “terrorism” to any disruptive activity.

“Gives authorities draconian powers to arrest without warrant or charges, tap phones, emails and private conversations, freeze assets and accounts; and removes safeguards for abuse,” he tweeted.

Another user @p4stelpink enumerated the provisions which might step on certain legal rights. These include legalizing wiretapping, granting warrant-less arrests, and extending the detention time of these suspects despite not being charged, among others.

She also questioned the removal of the provision on paying wrongly accused individuals of P500,000 which was previously indicated under the HSA.

Hontiveros similarly expressed fears that some provisions are going too far in the name of safety and security. These include those allowing warrantless arrests and preliminary proscription or ban of suspected terrorist organizations before they are allowed to be heard.

Pangilinan, meanwhile, opposed the vague definition of the term “terrorism” and questioned the motive for the prolonged detention of suspected terrorists.

“The prolonged detention is an impingement of rights and liberty. Why 14 days? If security officials and law enforcers are doing their job, why will it take them long to file a case?” he said.

What is the new Anti-Terrorism Law?

Similar to the HSA, the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 aims to prevent the country from any threat of terrorism, however this time, it provides a “strong legal backbone” on the country’s criminal justice system to respond to such threats and crimes.

In the definition of terms, a terrorist individual is “any natural person who commits any of the acts defined and penalized” specified in the bill.

A terrorist organization, meanwhile, refers to “any entity organized for the purpose of engaging in terrorism, or those proscribed under Section 26 hereof or the United Nations Security Council-designated terrorist organization.”

Under this measure, those who commit the following acts shall be detained for 12 years:

  1. Any person who shall threaten to commit, propose to commit and encourage others to commit terrorism.
  2. Any person who shall voluntarily and knowingly join any organization, association or group of persons knowing that such is a terrorist organization.
  3. Any person who shall be liable as [an] accessory to those who commit a terrorist act.

The parts which were questioned are found in:

Section 29
  1. The arrest or detention of a person suspected of committing terrorist acts without a judicial warrant.
  2. The period of detention is extended from 10 to 14 days as also stated in the same section.
Section 16
  1. The authority of military personnel or law enforcement agent with a written order from the Court of Appeals to secretly intercept and record communications as a form of surveillance.
  2. Compel telecommunication and internet service providers to produce information and identification records by sending such order to the National Telecommunications Commission.