(June 3, 2020) – Filipinos have the right to dissent, a law school dean said on Wednesday, criticizing the Senate leadership on his remarks supporting the swift passage of a new anti-terror bill in Congress.
Lawmakers are rushing to enact a more draconian measure to prevent terror attacks in the Philippines, seen three years ago in Marawi City when pro-Islamic State militants seized control of city for five months.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III blasted critics of the proposed bill asking them to read first before reacting to controversial measure.
“Terrorists or their supporters are the only ones who will be afraid of the bill,” Sotto said told the bill’s opponents, including some Muslim legislators who wanted adequate legal protection to minority Muslims in mainly Catholic country.
But lawyer Mel Sta. Maria, dean of the Far Eastern University (FEU) College of Law, chided the senator for his insensitive remarks, saying every citizen has the right to oppose a legislation as guaranteed by the constitution.
“Ang pagtutol po nila on constitutional grounds sa isang nakakatakot ng panukalang batas na makakapagdakip ng isang tao based on suspicion lamang ay totoo namang mali,” Sta, Maria said in a Facebook post.
“Para niyong sinasabi na [ang] nagsu-suspetsa ay parating tama at yung dinadakip ay parating mali.”
Sta. Maria, a TV5 network legal counsel, also questioned Section 29 of the proposed measure, which would allow the arrest of suspected terrorists without warrant for a maximum of 24 days in total.
“Ang threshold ng Section 29 ay suspicion lamang ang dahilan para manghuli. Mali po iyon,” he said.
He feared that if the bill is passed into law, it would give state forces the power to conduct surveillance operations and arrest without warrant those whom they suspect to be terrorists.
Persons who conspire, incite and recruit others into joining terrorist groups may also face life imprisonment without parole.
The provisions in the proposed measure have caught the ire of many human rights advocates, including lawyers who say the measure would only weaken safeguards against abuse committed by the military and police.
“Kung diyan po nag-uumpisa ang perspective, e ‘di lahat ng nag-criticize na natatakot sa batas, sapagkat totoo namang nakakatakot ang batas, ay pwedeng masuspetya na terrorista at pwedeng dakipin. Hence, mere criticism becomes illegal and ground for being taken into custody,” Sta. Maria said.
Sotto told reporters on Tuesday that the bill was “good as passed” after the president certified it as a priority measure with Congress expected to tackle it for passage today. (Christian de Lano Deiparine/MM)
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