May 30, 2020 – A human rights lawyer in Saturday raised concerns after two panels in the lower house of Congress swiftly approved the new anti-terrorism bill, adopting the draconian Senate bill and moving a step closer to an enactment in Congress.
The government has asked the two houses of Congress to pass a much tougher law on terrorism, saying the old law passed in 2007 was no longer responsive due to the evolving threat as seen in pro-Islamic State attack in Marawi City three years ago.
But Chel Diokno expressed concern the new law would only worsen the violations of human rights in the country under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.
“From my analysis of Senate Bill No. 1083, we should be worried because the moves in Congress to railroad a new Anti-Terrorism law endanger our basic rights and freedoms,” Diokno said.
Under the Senate bill, which would be called the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, terrorism is defined as acts defined to intimidate the public, create or spread a message of fear, to provoke or influence the government by intimidation, or seriously destabilize or destroy the fundamental political, economic, or social structure of the country.
These include acts intended to cause death or serious injury; extensive damage or destruction to a government or public facility, public place or private property; extensive interference with, damage or destroy its critical infrastructure; develop, manufacture, possess, transport, supply, or use weapons; and release of dangerous substances.
These are punishable by imprisonment of 12 years.
However, the act adds that the terrorism does not include advocacy, protest, dissent, stoppage of work, industrial or mass action, and other similar exercises of civil and political rights.
In particular, Diokno questioned provisions on warrantless arrests, prolonged detention, the power to ‘designate’, and ‘inciting to terrorism’.
Section 29 of the bill provides that any law enforcement agent can detain suspects without criminal liability for 14 days. This can further be extended for ten days.
Only after taking a suspect into custody is the law enforcement agent required to notify the nearest judge of the arrest.
The human rights lawyer, who ran and lost in the last senatorial elections, said this “is effectively an ‘executive warrant’ not allowed by the Constitution.”
Diokno said that under existing law, a person arrested without a warrant can only be detained for 12 to 36 hours.
The bill would also “give law enforcers a blanket license to make warrantless arrests even when the grounds therefor are not present,” he added.
POWER TO ‘DESIGNATE’ INDIVIDUALS
Diokno also questioned section 25 of the bill, giving the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) the power to designate individuals, groups, and organizations upon finding probable cause that they committed, attempted to commit, or conspired to commit acts of terrorism.
He said that this would be considered part of “judicial power” and “cannot be given to the ATC without violating the Constitution.”
“The power to ‘designate’ can easily be abused or misused,” Diokno added, “It should be given only to the courts, not the ATC, since judges are impartial, objective, and independent of the executive branch.”
INCITING TO TERRORISM
Diokno also raised concerns with section 9, stating that any person who incites others to execute acts of terrorism through speeches, proclamations, writings, or other representations, would also be imprisoned by 12 years.
“Section 9 of SB 1083 creates the crime of ‘inciting to terrorism’ similar to the crimes of “inciting to sedition” and “inciting to rebellion” in our Revised Penal Code. These crimes, however, are susceptible of broad application and can be used to stifle speech protected by the Constitution and to go after critics of the administration,” he warned.
After hurdling the Committees on Public Order and Safety and on Defense and Security, adopting the Senate version of the bill repealing the Human Security Act of 2007, it will go to plenary debates next week.
(Katrina Elaine Alba/MM)
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