The Senate, voting 19-2, approved on Wednesday on final reading Senate Bill No. 1083 which provides more teeth to the law against terrorism and effectively repealing the Human Security Act of 2007.
Senators Sonny Angara, Nancy Binay, Pia Cayetano, Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, Grace Poe, Imee Marcos, Manuel “Lito” Lapid, Joel Villanueva, Cynthia Villar, Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao, Win Gatchalian, Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, Richard Gordon, Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, Bong Revilla, Francis “Tol” Tolentino, Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, Majority Leader Migz Zubiri, and Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III voted in the affirmative while Senators Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan and Risa Hontiveros dissented.
The proposed Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 would provide a strong legal backbone to support the country’s criminal justice response to terrorism, provide the law enforcers the much-needed tools to protect the people from the threat of terrorism and, at the same time, safeguard the rights of those accused of the crime.
“We need a strong legal structure that deals with terrorism to exact accountability, liability, and responsibility. Those who have committed, are about to commit, or are supporting those who commit terroristic acts should be prosecuted and penalized accordingly,” said Lacson, sponsor of the measure.
The measure includes a new section on foreign terrorist fighters to cover Filipinos who commit terrorist offenses abroad.
Senate Bill 1083 introduced provisions imposing life imprisonment without parole on those who will propose, incite, conspire, and participate in the planning, training, preparation, and facilitation of a terrorist act; as well as those who will provide material support to terrorists, and recruit anyone to be a member of a terrorist organization.
Under the bill, any person who shall threaten to commit terrorism shall suffer the penalty of 12 years. The same jail term will be meted against those who will propose any terroristic acts or incite others to commit terrorism.
Any person who shall voluntarily and knowingly join any organization, association or group of persons knowing that such is a terrorist organization, shall suffer imprisonment of 12 years. The same penalty shall be imposed on any person found liable as an accessory in the commission of terrorism.
The measure not only establishes Philippine jurisdiction over Filipino nationals who may join and fight with terrorist organizations outside the Philippines but also ensures that foreign terrorists do not use the country as a transit point, a safe haven to plan and train new recruits for terrorist attacks in other countries.
The bill also removed the provision on payment of P500,000 damages per day of detention of any person acquitted of terrorism charges. But the number of days a suspected person can be detained without a warrant of arrest is 14 calendar days, extendible by 10 days.
A new provision, designating certain Regional Trial Courts (RTCs) as Anti-Terror Courts, was also introduced to ensure the speedy disposition of cases.
Also, the use of videoconferencing for the accused and witnesses to remotely appear and testify will be allowed under the measure.
The amendments also provide for the police or the military to conduct 60-day surveillance on suspected terrorists, which may be lengthened to another non-extendable period of 30 days, provided that they secure a judicial authorization from the Court of Appeals (CA).
Any law enforcement or military personnel found to have violated the rights of the accused persons shall be penalized with imprisonment of 10 years, the senator said.
To allay concerns of possible excesses by the authorities, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) shall be notified in case of detention of a suspected terrorist.
The measure also mandates the CHR to give the highest priority to the investigation and prosecution of violations of civil and political rights of persons and shall have the concurrent jurisdiction to prosecute public officials, law enforcers and other persons who may have violated the civil and political rights of suspects and detained persons.
Hontiveros and Pangilinan opposed some provisions of the bill that they feel would impinge on rights and liberty.
Pangilinan noted that the proposed definition of terrorism is vague and encompassing, making it open to abuse as the simplest or common crimes can be framed by errant law enforcers as acts of terrorism.
“The prolonged detention is an impingement of rights and liberty. Why 14 days? If security officials and law enforcers are doing their job, why will it take them long to file a case? Or, is the practice of arrest and detain now, produce or invent evidence later still prevalent, as it was when opposition leader Jovy Salonga was arrested, detained, and charged in 1981? The current law is not perfect, and we, in Congress, should be working continuously to make it work for the people,” he said.
“The amendments, however, are worrisome and could make the Human Security Act an even worse tool for repression instead of an instrument for thwarting terrorists,” Pangilinan added.
Hontiveros expressed the same, adding that safety and security can never be at the expense of the fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution.
“While all rights permit exceptions, I fear that certain provisions of the bill – specifically those allowing the preliminary proscription of suspected terrorist organizations prior to their being given an opportunity to be heard as well as those lowering the standard for warrantless arrest and detention – go too far and might lead to a number of pernicious consequences,” she said.
Dela Rosa, one of the co-authors of the bill, rallied behind the measure saying that the bill will fully equip law enforcers not only in terms of weapons and funding but in protecting their rights as well.
“The enactment of this law will send a brave message to the world that we are in solidarity in the global fight against terrorism. I would like to extend my gratitude to our seasoned legislator and staunch ally against terror, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, for shepherding and ensuring the swift but very deliberate passage of this legislative measure,” dela Rosa said. (PR)