Terrorism “knows no timing,” Sen. Panfilo Lacson said on Saturday, while critics of an anti-extremism law that he backed questioned its approval during the coronavirus pandemic and prepared to challenge it before the Supreme Court.
President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday has approved the law that would authorize order warrantless arrests of people it deems are terrorists, the same day that local cases of COVID-19 breached the 40,000-mark.
Senator Risa Hontiveros said the government should have focused on containing the pandemic and stopping millions of job losses instead of the law that would also allow the detention of suspects for up to 24 days without charge.
“Puwede ba nating sabihin sa terorista, ‘Huwag muna kayong magpasabog, may COVID eh’? Terrorism knows no timing, knows no boundary. It’s always urgent kasi they strike when we least expect it (Can we tell terrorists, ‘Don’t bomb us, there’s a COVID crisis’?),” said Lacson in an interview with ABS-CBN’s TeleRadyo.
“Ang loss of life dito, inosenteng sibilyan. Ayaw ba nating mayroon tayong legal protection, strong legal backbone na umiiral sa Pilipinas, na kung saan hindi tayo mabubulaga (The loss of life here will be innocent civilians. Don’t we want legal protection, a strong legal backbone in the Philippines so that terror acts will not take us by surprise?),” said Lacson.
The anti-terror law will allow regulators to freeze terror-linked assets and arrest suspects while they are still preparing for extremist acts, said Lacson.
The public should not fear warrantless arrests under the law because law enforcers are required to report these to the court, the Commission on Human Rights and an anti-terrorism council, Lacson said.
Arrests should also be anchored on probable cause and personal knowledge of the crime that suspects are “about to commit, actually committing or had just committed,” he said.
Enforcers risk up to 10 years in jail, dismissal from service and a permanent ban from public office if the arrests violate the rights of suspects, he said.
“Walang dapat katakutan, ikabahala. Katunayan, napakaraming safeguards na nilagay namin dito (There’s nothing to fear or worry about. In truth, we placed many safeguards here.),” said Lacson.
Government officials earlier said the law would exempt “advocacy, protest, dissent, stoppage of work… not intended to cause death or serious physical harm.”
Several opposition lawmakers and groups have vowed to question the law before the Supreme Court, which they said could be used to target government critics.
The law takes effect on July 18, said Malacañang./Stacy Ang