MANILA – The proposed Anti-Terrorism Act, if passed into law, would be the government’s “powerful weapon” against terrorists in the country, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said on Friday.

Panelo said there is an “urgent need” to strengthen the law against terror acts for the preservation of national security and the promotion of general welfare.

“The proposed Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 will serve as a powerful weapon against participants of these lawless actions, the threat of which is extremely imminent during our current times,” he said in a press statement.

Panelo issued the statement as critics continue to question the constitutionality of the anti-terror bill.

Despite warning against mass gatherings amid the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic, activists staged protests in different parts of the country to express their indignation against the bill.

Critics are claiming that the anti-terror bill could be used to quash dissent.

The proposed Anti-Terror Act, which is now up for President Rodrigo Duterte’s signature, authorizes the detention of suspected terrorists for up to 24 days without a warrant of arrest.

A 60-day surveillance, with an allowable 30-day extension, can also be conducted by the police or the military against the suspected terrorists, according to the proposed measure.

Under the bill, a person who voluntarily or knowingly joins a terrorist organization will suffer a 12-year jail term.

Fears ‘more imagined than real’

Panelo stressed that the anti-terrorism bill is intended “solely against terrorists”.

He ensured that Filipinos who peacefully dissent against the government’s policies would not be targeted. Thus, critics’ concerns are “more imagined than real,” Panelo said.

“Fears which were raised by certain sectors are more imagined than real. We therefore ask them to study its provisions carefully and discuss the same with legal experts so they can understand fully the spirit of the bill,” he said.

Sufficient safeguards

The enrolled copy of the bill, which seeks to repeal Republic Act 9372 or the Human Security Act of 2007, was transmitted by Congress to Duterte’s office on Tuesday.

Malacañang has since begun the review of the provisions of the proposed anti-terror law.

Panelo noted that after a “careful and thoughtful” review, it has been recommended that the bill be approved and signed by Duterte.

“Our office has studied each and every provision, which should not be read in isolation but in connection with each other so as to render the document in its entirety, as well as its directives, effective in combatting terrorism, and found the same passing the constitutional test,” he said.

Panelo guaranteed that the measure has “sufficient safeguards” to ensure that the political and civil rights of law-abiding Filipinos are protected.

“The bill contains sufficient safeguards which ensure that its provisions would be implemented and enforced against those who intend to sow and create a condition of widespread and extraordinary fear and panic among the populace through lawless actions,” he said.

Compliant with international covenants

Panelo said lawmakers had given assurance that provisions found in the anti-terror bill comply with international covenants.

Citing the United Nations Security Council’s Resolution 2396 issued in 2017, Panelo said “member-states have the primary responsibility in countering terrorist acts and violent extremism conducive to terrorism.”

Panelo assured the public that remedies under the 1987 Constitution and other relevant laws and rules are in place against abuses on the part of government agents.

“By strengthening policies against terrorism and its actors, our country will effectively be complying with our obligations to the community of nations by countering and eliminating terroristic acts through proper legislation,” he said. (PNA)

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