MANILA, Philippines — With the support of 173 (YES) House members, the controversial House Bill (HB) No. 6875 or “The Anti-Terrorist Act” passed the third and final reading which sought to amend the Human Security Act of 2007. This will now be transmitted to the Office of the President to be signed into law by President Rodrigo Duterte.
Lawyers and human rights activists have raised the alarm over the anti-terrorism bill pushed by President Rodrigo Duterte, warning of draconian and arbitrary provisions that could be abused and used to suppress free speech and harass those who challenge the President. Others have questioned the government for prioritizing such a measure while the Philippines has yet to contain its COVID-19 epidemic.
The following provisions are the red flags of the Anti-Terrorism Act
Section 16 | Surveillance Activities
With a written order from the Court of Appeals, authorities can secretly wiretap any private communication, conversation or discussion or message between any person charged or suspected of terrorism.
The Court of Appeals, according to Section 17, can only grant authorization if “there is probable cause to believe that terrorism has been committed, is being committed or is about to be committed” satisfying Article III Section 3 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution that states “The privacy of communication and correspondence shall be inviolable except upon lawful order of the court, or when public safety or order requires otherwise, as prescribed by law.”
According to Section 24, any agent who conducts surveillance activities without a valid judicial authorization, shall be penalized with 10 years of imprisonment.
This provision, however, does not apply to lawyers and clients, doctors and patients, journalists and their sources and confidential business correspondence.
Section 25 | Designation of Terrorist Individual or Groups
The Anti-Terrorism Council, composed of President Duterte’s Cabinet members, may designate a person as a terrorist “upon finding a probable cause” that the individual, or groups of persons.., commit or attempt to commit, or conspire in terrorist acts as defined by the bill. “Upon application of the DOJ before the authorizing division of the Court of Appeals with due notice and opportunity to be heard,” those found guilty will “be declared as a terrorist” in pursuant to Section 26 of this Act. In a tweet, Human Rights Advocate Chel Diokno said that “the power to designate” should be given to the courts “since judges are impartial, objective, and independent of the executive branch.”
Section 29 | Detention without Judicial Warrant of Arrest
Any law enforcer/military personnel, authorized by the ATC, can apprehend and arrest a person suspected of committing terrorism for up to 24 days without incurring a criminal liability. According to Calleja law firm, this provision gives a law enforcement agent a wide discretion in determining who will be the subject of surveillance if they themselves found the existence of probable cause without fear of incurring any criminal liability and warrants a total dispensation of the minimum requirements of due process — another violation of Article III Section 1 of the Constitution.
In this bill, a notice on the apprehension should be submitted by the law enforcement agent or military personnel to the court nearest the place of arrest and likewise furnish the ATC and Commission on Human Rights with the written notice given to the judge. Penalty of a 10 year imprisonment shall be imposed if the law enforcement agent or military personnel fails to notify any judge.
Section 4 | Terrorism Defined
Section 4 of SB 1083 enumerates acts of terrorism, regardless of its execution. It penalizes individuals who threaten, propose, incite, conspire and participate in the planning, training and facilitation of a terrorist act. The same penalty shall also be imposed on any person who facilitates travel, recruits members, and provides material support to terrorists.
The penalty based on a mere threat violates the Article III Section 1 of the 1987 Constitution that states “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws.”
Terrorism, as explained by Section 4 of this act, shall not include advocacy, protest, dissent, stoppage of work, industrial or mass action and other similar exercises of civil and political rights — which are not intended to cause death or serious physical harm that will endanger a person’s life and create a serious risk to public safety.
Section 9 of Sb 1083 contradicts Section 4, penalizing those who incite to commit terrorism by means of speeches, proclamations, writings, emblems, banners or other representations — an encroachment on Article III Section 4 of the Constitution: “No law shall be passed abdriging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.”
Despite heavy criticism on the Act, Malacanang assured that there are no “draconian provisions” in the bill which is meant to beef up the country’s law against terrorism.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque made this statement after President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday certified the measure as urgent.
“Wala naman pong draconian na provision diyan. Lahat po ng provision diyan ay ibinase rin natin sa mga batas na mga iba’t ibang bansa na mas epektibo po ang kanilang pagtrato dito sa mga terorista ”presidential spokes person harry roque
(There is no draconian provision there. All of those provisions are based on laws of other countries that are effective in fighting terrorists)
Senator Panfilo Lacson assures the public that there are enough safeguards in the law so no one could misuse it once it passed as a law.
“The concerns being raised by the progressive and leftist groups as well as human rights advocates have been adequately addressed during the Committee on National Defense and Security public hearings, as well as the debates and interpellations in plenary,”Senator Panfilo lacson