MANILA – Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. on Thursday slammed critics for “twisting” the main intent of anti-terrorism bill, urging them to carefully weigh-in on the current peace and security situation in the country.

Galvez, a retired general, acknowledged the right of citizens to oppose the measure, but reminded them of the most gruesome terrorist attacks across the globe which forced first-world countries to reassess and recalibrate their response to such threats.

“In the Philippines, nobody imagined that attacks in the scope of 9/11 or the ones carried out in Paris would ever occur on our shores. But the 2017 Marawi siege happened, which made us realize our country’s vulnerability to such acts of terror,” he said in a statement.

Recalling his experience as commander of the Western Mindanao Commander (WestMinCom) when the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups laid siege to the city, Galvez said memories of death, pain, and destruction is the main reason why he supported the passage of the bill.

He said the measure, which is “long overdue”, will provide the government the means to effectively eliminate terrorist groups and allow Filipinos to live peacefully and without fear in their communities.

“For the longest time, state forces have been fighting the enemy with its hands virtually tied behind its back. Although there were already opportunities in the past to get our hands on suspected terrorists, we could not simply because our current laws did not allow us to do so,” he said.

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Rights protected

To allay fears of human rights abuses, Galvez said Congress has put in place safeguards in the anti-terror bill to ensure that all the constitutional rights and civil liberties of Filipinos are protected.

Galvez pointed out that Section 2 and 4 of the anti-terror bill, terrorism do not include advocacy, protest, dissent, stoppage of work, industrial or mass action or other similar activities if they are not intended to cause death or serious physical harm to others.

He said Sections 25 and 26 provide for the designation of terrorist individual, groups of person, organization or association and the Proscription of Terrorist Organization, association or group of persons by Court of Appeals.

On the question of whether the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) can conduct surveillance of any person, Section 16 of the anti-terror bill says there are stringent requirements that must be complied with by authorities before such surveillance can be carried out, he added.

“The military and police must first secure a written authority from the Court of Appeals. However, before the said authority can be obtained, a prior authority must be issued by the ATC,” he added.

He explained that the bill provides a 14-day detention period, which is allowed in the Philippine Constitution.

“There is no provision in the Constitution which explicitly states the number of days a suspect can be preventively detained,” he said, saying the 14-day period will enable authorities to gather intelligence information and evidence against the terror groups, while isolating suspects.

“By and large, the bill will provide our criminal justice system the much-needed legal backbone to handle the threat of terrorist organizations whose means of achieving their goals continue to evolve and become more sophisticated,” he said.

He said critics who claimed that the measure would curtail human rights are “totally misguided.”

“They are merely creating their own ghosts and twisting the main intent of the bill,” he said.

Free to file cases

In a Palace briefing, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque thanked the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines – Committee on Basic Ecclesial Communities (CBCP-BEC) for raising concern that the anti-terrorism bill could be “detrimental” to the rights of citizens.

Roque said that should the proposed law be signed, critics are free to question its constitutionality before the court.

“Kapag naman iyan ay naisabatas ay pupuwede rin po silang magdemanda dahil gumagana naman po ang ating mga hukuman (Once it is enacted into law, they can file a case because our courts are working),” he said.

In 2007, Roque once challenged the constitutionality of the Human Security Act (HSA) of 2007, the law which the anti-terror bill seeks to amend, but he and his fellow petitioners eventually lost at the Supreme Court in 2013.

“We actually went to court and attempted to question the constitutionality of HSA and failed. The courts have said it’s constitutional, then why would you continue questioning its constitutionality?” he said.

BCP-BEC expressed hope that the government would listen to the calls of concerned citizens and instead prioritize those policies that are “truly needed for the nation’s recovery from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. (PNA)