House panels approve amendments to anti-terrorism law



The House Committees on National Defense and Security and Public Order and Safety have approved on Friday the amendments to the country’s existing anti-terrorism law, with an overwhelming approval of votes from congressmen.

The final vote was 34-2.

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate and QC Rep. Kit Belmonte cast their dissenting votes.

The two  panels convened via video conferencing last Friday.

The House Committee on Public Order and Safety is chaired by Masbate Rep. Narciso Bravo Jr.  The Committee on National Defense and Security is chaired by Iloilo Rep. Raul Tupas.

Earlier in the hearing, the two panels adopted a substitute bill that was similar to the Senate version of the bill, 42-2.

Bravo explained that the substitute House bill is similar to the Senate version which was approved in February.

“We have to approve today a bill that is similar to the Senate bill to avoid the necessity to convene a bicameral conference committee,” he said.

Makabayan bloc lawmakers panned the bill.

“Bumoto po ako ng no sa Human Security Act (HSA) or terror law amendments dahil sa mas palalalain pa nito ang mga paglabag sa karapatang pantao sa ating bansa at gagawin nitong parang isang police state ang Pilipinas,” said Deputy Minority leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate.

“Naniniwala din ako na hindi panahon para pagdebatehan ang panukalang ito dahil dapat nating mas pagtuunan ang pagsugpo sa CoViD 19 at ang malalang krisis na idinulot nito sa milyon-milyon nating mga kababayan, at, hindi ang panunupil, pag-aresto, pagkulong o pagpatay sa mga kritiko ng administrasyon,” Zarate also said.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the security sector are pushing for these draconian measure because they would effectively make the country a police state, where protests and dissent are now equated with terrorism,” added the Davao-based solon.

“Madaling i-weaponize kapag naging batas ang anti-terror bill sa mga kritiko at mga miyembro ng opposition dahil sa vagueness at broadness ng definition ng terrorism na mas pinalala pa dahil sa kaakibat na broad powers din na ibibigay sa Anti-Terrorism Council na isang de facto junta . Sa ganitong batas at kalakaran ay bawal ng kwestyunin ang mga anti-mamamayang polisiya at maging ang kurapsyon at katiwalian ng gobyerno,” the lawmaker said.

“As it is, this anti-terror bill is patently anti-people and unconstitutional. It will also further worsen the sorry state of human rights in the country as well as heighten the state of impunity of the state security forces,” said Zarate.

For her part, Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas said the bill will embed a climate of fear.

“This Anti-Terrorism Bill will embed the climate of fear into our laws. Fear of the undue and disproportionate violence of the state. Fear of arbitrary terrorist tagging. Fear of wrongful arrest and detention. This is the kind of fear and terror manufactured by the state to repress critical voices of the people. Anyone can be jailed without charges for merely speaking truth to power, because the basic conditions and definitions of terrorist acts are overly broad and vague! This bill will be weaponized to widen the net of state forces in hauling dissenters and ordinary citizens to jail,” said Brosas.

“This state terrorism, like the COVID-19, can cost one’s life too. We’ve seen how thousands of innocent lives have been killed in the name of the administration’s iron fist rule. We’ve seen how women human rights defenders have been wrongfully tagged as terrorists despite their clear record of championing women’s rights,” Brosas said.

The bill is expected to be submitted to the plenary session next week.

The existing anti-terrorism law or the Human Security Act of 2007 had been criticized for being useless because of provisions penalizing law enforcers with the payment of P500,000 damages per day of detention of any person acquitted of terrorism charges

Senate Bill 1083 has 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.

If the bill becomes law, any person who shall threaten to commit terrorism shall suffer the penalty of 12 years in prison. The same prison term will be imposed on 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 accessory in the commission of terrorism.

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, extendable 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 a 60-day surveillance on suspected terrorists, which may be lengthened to another non-extendable period of 30 days, provided that they secure 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./Stacy Ang



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