âAnti-terrorâ bill defines terrorism vaguely but has clear and specific dangers
In this March 16, 2018 photo, militant group Anakpawis holds a protest in front of the Department of Justice.
The STAR/Miguel de Guzman, File
‘Anti-terror’ bill defines terrorism vaguely but has clear and specific dangers
Ratziel San Juan (Philstar.com) - May 30, 2020 - 12:25pm

MANILA, Philippines — Two committees of the House of Representatives on Friday approved an unnumbered substitute bill that would effectively repeal the Human Security Act of 2007 and replace it with a harsher law similar to the Senate’s controversial proposed “Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.”

The Senate version approved back in February was met with criticism from local and international rights groups over provisions said to loosely define terrorism and authorize the widescale violation of human rights in the Philippines.

RELATED: Senate approves 'monster' anti-terror bill | Anti-terror bill to restrict civil liberties in the name of security — watchdog

Notwithstanding, the majority of the House Committee on Public Order and Safety and Committee on Defense and Security during a joint Friday meeting voted to adopt the Senate measure and approve a similar counterpart bill based on this.

“The instruction of the House leadership is to somehow submit and approve today a bill that is similar to the Senate bill because of the possibility of avoiding a [Bicameral Conference]...The urgency of this bill requires us to really fast track [its] approval,” said District Rep. Narciso Bravo Jr. (Masbate), Public Order and Safety Committee Chairman.

This ignited social media Friday, with thousands of posts using “#JunkTerrorBill” topping local Twitter trends along with similar terms “#OustDuterte” and “ACTIVISM IS NOT TERRORISM.”

Here’s why Filipinos are clamoring against the said anti-terrorism legislation.

How terrorism is defined

While on the surface, the Senate bill and its unreleased House equivalent appear to propose an effective framework for anti-terrorism efforts in the Philippines, a serious issue hides between the lines: the definition of terrorism.

What acts constitute as terrorism and who are the terrorists?

According to the approved Senate Bill 1083, terrorism is committing any of the following “regardless of the stage of execution” within or outside the country:

  • Engaging in acts intended to cause death or serious bodily injury to any person, or endangering a person’s life
  • Engaging in acts intended to cause extensive damage or destruction to a government or public facility, public place or private property
  • Engaging in acts intended to cause extensive interference with, damage or destruction to critical infrastructure
  • Developing, manufacturing, possessing, acquiring, transporting, supplying or using weapons, explosives or of biological, nuclear, radiological or chemical weapons
  • Releasing of dangerous substances, or causing fire, floods or explosions

“[W]hen the purpose of such act, by its nature and context, is to intimidate the general public or a segment thereof, create an atmosphere or spread a message of fear, to provoke or influence by intimidation the government or any of its international organization, or seriously destabilize or destroy the fundamental political, economic, or social structures of the country, or create a public emergency or seriously undermine public safety, [the perpetrator] shall be guilty of committing terrorism and shall suffer the penalty of life imprisonment without the benefit of parole and the benefits of the [Revised Penal Code],” read the bill.

It likewise penalizes related acts with incarceration ranging from 12 years up to life imprisonment.

These include threats to commit terrorism; planning, training, preparing and facilitating the commission of terrorism; conspiracy to commit terrorism; proposal to commit terrorism; inciting to commit terrorism; recruitment to and membership in a terrorist organization; foreign terrorism; and providing material support to terrorists.

What’s the catch?

The Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) — with several members known for red-tagging and persecuting legal organizations, institutions and individuals — is the chief implementer of the act if passed into law.

For those unfamiliar, red-tagging is defined by Philippine jurisprudence as “the act of labeling, branding, naming and accusing individuals and/or organizations of being left-leaning, subversives, communists or terrorists (used as) a strategy... by State agents, particularly law enforcement agencies and the military, against those perceived to be ‘threats’ or ‘enemies' of the State.”

Just a few words (komunista, NPA, rebelde) are all it takes to endanger activists and civilians from a range of threats like harassment and even extrajudicial killings, as found by rights groups.

RELATED: How activists respond to being tagged as rebels

On top of automatically adopting the United Nations Security Council Consolidated List (which includes the Abu Sayyaf Group, Jemaah Islamiyah and the Rajah Solaiman Movement) and ability to request for terrorist designations from other jurisdictions like the European Union (which lists the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army as a terrorist group), the council would also have the power to identify other individuals and groups as terrorists.

“The ATC may designate an individual, groups of persons, organization, or association, whether domestic or foreign, upon a finding of probable cause that the individual, groups of persons, organization, or association commit, or attempt to commit, or conspire in the commission of [terrorism].”

This is alarming considering the background of select members of the ATC.

Under the current Human Security Act, the council’s membership is as follows:

  • Executive Secretary (Chairperson)
  • Secretary of Justice (Vice-Chairperson)
  • Secretary of Foreign Affairs
  • Secretary of National Defense
  • Secretary of the Interior and Local Government
  • Secretary of Finance
  • National Security Advisor

While Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra has said that membership in the CPP does not qualify as a crime, several of the other members are known for red-tagging legal organizations and individuals.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, whose department assured of the anti-terror law’s safeguards, previously said that leftist groups should be outlawed and even pushed for the revival of the Cold War-era Anti-Subversion Law.

Defense Secretary said that his agency has evidence that the Makabayan Bloc is affiliated with rebels.

Most notably, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon legally pursued rights groups Karapatan, Gabriela and Rural Missionaries of the Philippines in addition to blatant red-tagging of other organizations.

The notorious National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict chaired by President Rodrigo Duterte and where Esperon serves as vice chair Friday extensively listed and accused organizations across different sectors of serving as legal fronts of underground groups.

Stronger authority, weaker rights

“If enacted, the new anti-terrorism bill will become the most potent weapon the government can use to stifle dissent. In the hands of an administration that has shown its penchant for using the law to silence and punish its critics, and security apparatuses known for human rights abuses, the proposed measure will only serve as a legal framework for a crack down on progressive organizations, civil society groups, activists, members of the media, and individuals labelled as dissidents or ‘enemies of the state,’” the National Union of People’s Lawyers earlier described Senate’s propose measure.

The group warned of the following dangers of the anti-terror bill:

  • Lengthier surveillance operations
  • Wiretapping and recording of private communications
  • Accessing of databases
  • Examining bank records
  • Freezing the assets of persons and organizations suspected of financing terrorism or having connections with alleged terrorists.
  • Authorizing the military to carry out surveillance activities previously reserved only for the police
  • Warrantless arrests and detention of suspected terrorists for an initial period of up to two weeks, extendable for another 10 days (compared to the three-day maximum detention permitted under the Human Security Act)
  • Lack of hearing and presentation before a judge
  • Criminalizing speech

“If enacted, the new anti-terror legislation would have grave due process implications not only because it fails to give notice as to the actions that would constitute an offense under the said law, but also because it gives undue discretion to the military, law-enforcers, prosecutors, and judges in determining which acts may qualify as ‘terrorism,’” the NUPL said.

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