MANILA – The Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 would give Philippine authorities the much-needed legal backbone against terrorism and prosecuting those involved in the act, the Philippine Permanent Mission to the United Nations in Geneva said.
During the forum “Understanding the Human Rights Perspective of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020” last Sept. 3, Ambassador Evan Garcia said the grave situation of terrorism in the country necessitated the urgent passage of the bill into law.
“The siege of Marawi City in the southern Philippines by ISIS-affiliated terrorists in 2017 laid the historic Muslim city in ruins, forcibly displaced more than 230,000 residents, and damaged billions of pesos of private and public property, was considered as the longest urban battle in the contemporary history of the Philippines,” he said.
“The recent twin attacks in Jolo, Sulu in Southern Philippines is yet another reminder of the reality of terrorist threats in the country even amid the pandemic,” he added.
He noted that “acts of terror” perpetrated by the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army similarly continued amid the pandemic.
“The Global Terrorism Index identified this group as the biggest perpetrator of terroristic activities in the country responsible for over 107 deaths, 179 terror-related incidents and attacks against police, military, and government targets in 39 provinces, in 2018 alone,” he said.
Briefing around 200 participants, including representatives from 39 embassies and six UN agencies and other international organizations, Garcia said the provisions in the new measure were not crafted in a vacuum and is anchored on the lessons learned from the implementation of the Human Security Act (HSA) of 2007 and relevant UN Security Council Resolutions concerning counter-terrorism.
“The adoption of the law conformably with these safeguards and security guidelines makes the Philippines compliant with its obligations under international law and complements the security requirements in preventing and prosecuting terrorists in our jurisdiction,” he said.
Garcia added that Manila has to fix its loopholes or at least strengthen its laws by October 2020 to evade possible “graylisting” by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) for non-compliance with its recommendations.
READ: Anti-Terrorism Act to keep PH out of gray list
Garcia warned that earning the FATF’s tag could “negatively affect” critical sectors like remittances from overseas Filipino workers as well as international financial transactions.
Meanwhile, he said talks on the new measure still boils down to the victims of terrorism and of their families.
“Our efforts, including the strengthening of legal frameworks and their implementation, must similarly seek to uphold the primacy of the human rights of the victims and their families, ensure accountability, and prevent a recurrence,” he said.
Tito Fajardo of the Presidential Human Rights Committee Secretariat (PHRCS) premised his presentation on President Rodrigo Duterte’s statement during his 2020 State of the Nation Address that freedom from terrorism is itself a human right.
He noted that the legislation specifically cites the role of an independent judiciary.
“The Anti-Terror Act of 2020 is composed of 58 sections and there are at least 17 sections devoted to emphasizing the role of the judiciary in exercising its mandate as a mechanism to protect and promote human rights,” he said.
UN Senior Human Rights Adviser Signe Poulsen, speaking on behalf of UN Resident Coordinator Gustavo Gonzalez, lauded Manila’s initiative to share information on the ATA and reiterated the UN’s commitment to work with the country, including by providing advice on the formulation of the law’s Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR).
“We think the knowledge and capacity of those who would be tasked with implementing the new law are equally important and so, building on the fine-tuning of the law, we could also provide advice in this regard,” she said during the briefing.
Duterte signed the law on July 3, 2020, repealing the HSA of 2007.
‘Irons out lapses’
In the same briefing, lawyer Florentino Manalastas, Jr. of the Anti-Terrorism Council – Project Management Council (ATC-PMC) said the ATA of 2020 corrects the “flaws” in the 2007 law.
The HSA of 2007 was only utilized on four occasions due to its “onerous provisions”, including the heavy fine for law enforcers if the offender is acquitted, and the short holding period for an offender which is not enough to develop a strong case, Manalastas said.
“These predicaments experienced by our practitioners in the field that resulted in the low turn out of cases led us to conclude that the HSA was not effective in deterring terrorists,” he said.
Lawyer Frederick Farolan of the Coalition for Security Towards Peace echoed similar sentiments, agreeing that the ATA 2020 irons out the lapses in HSA 2007 as well as in the Anti-Terror Financing Act of 2012.
Under the old law or the HSA 2007, he noted that a suicide bomber can only be prosecuted as a terrorist after he/she detonated the bomb.
Citing another instance, Farolan said Marwan, the target of the Special Action Forces in 2015, entered the Philippines through the airport and passed through the immigration.
However, there was no legal basis to apprehend him at that point.
“The Philippines at that time had no law which would allow it to quickly act if any international terrorist personality attempted to come to the Philippines,” he said.
On criticisms against the measure, Farolan believes that the provisions in the ATA 2020 ensure that law enforcers would be penalized for any abuse or violation.
“If any law enforcement or military personnel violates or abuses any provision of this act, there are criminal liabilities… the maximum penalty would be 10 years of imprisonment and it would also entail administrative liability,” he said.
Some 30 groups have asked the Supreme Court to junk the new measure as they challenge its provisions, including the arrest of the accused without a warrant and their detention for 14 up to 24 days.
PBA party-list Rep. Jericho Nograles, a leading sponsor of the legislation, believes the high court would sustain the constitutionality of the new law as it did in the past.
“The 26 or so complaints lodged before the Supreme Court are generally the same as far as I have reviewed, and the complainants as well seem to be the same complainants after the HSA 2007 was enacted into law,” he said in the same briefing.
“The reasons and the arguments presented by the 20 or so complainants are redundant and practically the same as the previous one so we expect the Supreme Court to rule in the same manner, saying that there are no unconstitutional provisions,” he added.
Justice Undersecretary Adrian Ferdinand Sugay is also confident that the new measure would be able to withstand scrutiny by the high court.
“As far as we’re concerned, we expect the Supreme Court to interpret this law in relation to what has already been enacted, particularly the Terrorist Financing Act and also with regard to the other existing jurisprudence,” he said. (PNA)