MANILA – The newly-enacted Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 complies with the obligations under international law and guarantees respect for human rights, the Philippine government told a United Nations body.

In a note verbale to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights dated August 27, the Philippine Permanent Mission to the United Nations in Geneva rejected the “presumptive and speculative allegations” about the law.

“There is no justification for claims that ‘alleged violations of human rights’ have been committed or are about to be imminently committed under the newly-enacted legislation, raising the question of prematurity and vagueness of several concerns enumerated in the Joint Communication JOL 4/2020 of 29 June 2020 regarding specific provisions of the law,” it said.

In the joint communication, a number of UN special rapporteurs raised concerns on the new measure’s designation of individuals and organizations as terrorists and its possible violation of privacy, among others.

The Philippines, in its response, said the rapporteurs “conveniently failed” to distinguish between “proscription” and “designation” as the power to determine with finality that an individual or organization is a terrorist under the ATA lies with the Court of Appeals, through a judicial process.

“The two concepts are different and are governed by two different sections of ATA. Proscription is governed by Section 26 and is ordered by the authorized division of the Court of Appeals where the application is filed while designation is governed by the provision of Section 25 and is one who is designated as such by the UN Security Council, other jurisdiction, supranational jurisdiction or the ATC upon a finding of probable cause,” it said.

It added that the only legal consequence of a “designation” is inclusion in a list to be submitted by the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) to the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) for further investigation or freezing of assets, as necessary.

Among the provisions also questioned by the UN rapporteurs was ATA 2020 ’s Section 29 that allows detention without a warrant of arrest, an inclusion the Permanent Mission described as “necessary”.

“The Philippines believes that this provision is necessary if promptness of appearance before a judicial authority and conduct of trial within a reasonable time is to be weighed by the real necessities of abating terrorism, including the gathering of evidence and intelligence, protection of the arrested individual from retaliation, and coordination with other jurisdictions,” it said.

It said that safeguards are present, which include the need for an arresting officer to secure authorization from the ATC and the requirement to immediately submit a notice to the nearest judge of the court.

“Nothing in the ATA impairs a person from pursuing other valid legal remedies such as a writ of habeas corpus and/or a writ of amparo,” it said.

On the protection of privacy, Manila noted that ATA 2020 requires an exhaustive process for any surveillance activities, including requirements for filing of application before the Court of Appeals and giving notice to the National Telecommunications Commission.

“The agent/officer who conducts such illegal/unauthorized surveillance is criminally liable for an offense that carries the penalty of ten years imprisonment, as well as dismissal from the service. Likewise, nothing in the ATA impairs a person deeming himself/herself illegally surveilled from filing a Writ of Habeas Data, a recognized legal remedy under our jurisdiction,” it said.

The Permanent Mission said the amendments in the anti-terror measure are in keeping with the UNSCR 1373, which was adopted following the 9/11 terrorist attacks that enjoined all States to ensure that “any person who participates in the financing, planning, preparation or perpetration of terrorist acts” is brought to justice.

The added provision criminalizing incitement to terrorism also seeks to operationalize UNSCR 1624, which calls upon member states to adopt measures to prohibit by law incitement to commit terrorist acts, it added.

“The new provisions incorporated in the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 aim to ensure the Philippines’ compliance with its international obligations on counter-terrorism,” it said.

President Rodrigo Duterte signed the law on July 3, 2020, repealing the Human Security Act (HSA) of 2007. The Permanent Mission said since the enactment of the HSA 2007, several bills have been filed in Congress aimed at enhancing the measure.

“The ATA intends to give Philippine authorities a much-needed strong legal backbone to support the criminal justice system in preventing terrorism and prosecuting those who are involved in terror acts. With the evolving terrorist threats and ever-changing tactics, terrorists perpetrate insidious acts,” it said. (PNA)