MANILA – The Anti-Terrorism Bill passed by the Senate has enough legal safeguards against perceived abuses that may be committed during its implementation, Senator Panfilo Lacson assured on Thursday as he addressed concerns raised by critics of the measure.
“Lahat na safeguards naman naroon (All safeguards are there),” he said, noting that the Senate Bill 1083, otherwise known as the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, was passed on final reading Wednesday, provides for stringent legal procedures that should be followed by law enforcement agencies.
For one, he said under the bill, the conduct of electronic surveillance on suspected terrorists should have a judicial authorization from the Court of Appeals (CA).
“Hindi lang (Not just the) Regional Trial Court (RTC). Sa intervention ni (With the intervention of) Senator Franklin Drilon, we elevated to the CA the issuance of judicial authorization to conduct surveillance,” Lacson said.
He said even the issuance of the order of proscription should have to come from the CA, rather than the RTCs under the current law.
Lacson said additional safeguards were also provided to prevent abuses even as the period of detention without a warrant has been raised to 14 days instead of the current three-day period.
Under SB 1083, he said law enforcement officers who effected the warrantless arrest are bound to immediately notify a judge nearest the place of arrest.
“They also have to immediately inform the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) of the arrest. Visitation rights are also there and there is no limit on lawyer’s visits,” Lacson said.
He said the 14-day reglementary period is imposed because “terrorism” is not just an ordinary crime against persons or property, but “a crime against humanity,” and its impact in terms of destruction of lives and property is very massive and very indiscriminate.
“And we’re just trying to be at par with other countries especially our neighboring countries, like Singapore that has a reglementary period of 732 days, and which could be extended indefinitely. We are one with the shortest, with 14 days reglementary period to detain without a warrant,” he said.
Lacson said they removed the compensation for those wrongfully detained because it was one of the provisions that make the Human Security Act “toothless.”
He pointed out that the provision penalizing law enforcement officers PHP500,000 for each day that a “wrongfully accused” suspect was detained is what is keeping the Philippine National Police (PNP), the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and even the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) from filing cases under the HSA.
“Takot sila na pagka na-dismiss ang kaso, pamumultahin sila ng PHP500,000 per day of detention. Even in the Marawi siege, hindi sila nag-file ng cases in violation of the HSA. Ang ginawa na lang nila, mga murder and multiple murder cases ang file nila. Kaya naging virtual dead letter law ang RA 9732,” he said.
(They are afraid that if the case is dismissed, they will be fined P500,000 per day of detention. Even in the Marawi siege, they did not file cases in violation of the HSA. Instead, they filed murder and multiple murder cases. That’s why RA 9732 became a virtual dead letter law.)
Senators Francis Pangilinan and Risa Hontiveros opposed its passage due to some provisions that they feel may impinge on rights and liberty, including those that touch on electronic surveillance, an extended period of detention without a judicial warrant, and the removal of compensation for persons wrongfully detained among others.
To further prevent abuses, Lacson said any law enforcement or military personnel found to have violated the rights of the accused persons shall be penalized with imprisonment of 10 years.
Lacson also assured that SB 1083 cannot be used to stifle dissent and silence government critics since the measure clearly does not include the “exercise of legitimate dissent” as an act of terror.
“We defined acts of terrorism in such a way that the intent and purpose are clearly stated there, within the context of terrorism,” he said.
Once the measure is enacted into law, Lacson is optimistic that the campaign against terrorism would be more effective.
“What we are avoiding here is to make the Philippines a safe haven for terrorists, because our law is too lenient and too weak,” he said.
“Let’s face it. Acts of terrorism have become the new normal especially in other countries, and our country is not exempted from this. Every now and then we’ll be hearing about suicide bombers, and we’ve had our first case of suicide bombing very recently. ISIS is already here in the Philippines. So it’s about time we strengthen our laws against terrorism,” Lacson said.
Other provisions of the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 includes a new section on foreign terrorist fighters to cover Filipinos who commit terrorist offenses abroad.
It also introduced provisions imposing life imprisonment without parole on those who will propose, incite, conspire, and participate in the planning, training, preparation, and facilitation of a terrorist act; as well as those who will provide material support to terrorists, and recruit anyone to be a member of a terrorist organization.
Under the bill, any person who shall threaten to commit terrorism shall suffer the penalty of 12 years. The same jail term will be meted against those who will propose any terroristic acts or incite others to commit terrorism.
Any person who shall voluntarily and knowingly join any organization, association or group of persons knowing that such is a terrorist organization, shall suffer imprisonment of 12 years. The same penalty shall be imposed on any person found liable as an accessory in the commission of terrorism.
The measure not only establishes Philippine jurisdiction over Filipino nationals who may join and fight with terrorist organizations outside the Philippines but also ensures that foreign terrorists do not use the country as a transit point, a safe haven to plan and train new recruits for terrorist attacks in other countries.
A new provision, designating certain Regional Trial Courts (RTCs) as Anti-Terror Courts, was also introduced to ensure the speedy disposition of cases.
The use of videoconferencing for the accused and witnesses to remotely appear and testify will be allowed under the measure.
The measure also mandates the CHR to give the highest priority to the investigation and prosecution of violations of civil and political rights of persons and shall have the concurrent jurisdiction to prosecute public officials, law enforcers and other persons who may have violated the civil and political rights of suspects and detained persons. (PNA)