Rights lawyers urge public: Voice out rejection of 'Anti-Terror' Bill
This photo taken November 2019 shows Rep. Carlos Zarate (Bayan Muna) and other members of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan office denouncing the early morning raid in their Tondo, Manila office that led to the arrest of three activists.

Rights lawyers urge public: Voice out rejection of 'Anti-Terror' Bill

Kristine Joy Patag (Philstar.com) - June 2, 2020 - 1:33pm

MANILA, Philippines — Rights lawyers on Tuesday sound the alarm on the proposed “Anti-Terror” bill and urged the public to reject the “unconstitutional” proposed legislation.  

The Concerned Lawyers for Civil Liberties (CLCL) on Tuesday expressed opposition to the proposed Anti-Terrorism Bill “as antithetical to human rights and democracy in the Philippines.”

The group of veteran rights lawyers, led by Dean Chel Diokno, said the bill contains unconstitutional provisions that also “weaken protections against abuse and misuse.”

The National Union of Peoples' Lawyers (NUPL), for its part, slammed the bill as it would "erode human rights and institutionalize impunity."

The bill essentially seeks to toughen up the nation’s anti-terrorism policies. Its Senate version, approved last February 2020, was adopted by the House committees on public order and safety, and defense and security—just as the Philippines was gearing into shifting to general community quarantine while COVID-19 infections continue to rise.

President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday certified the bills as urgent, which means that it can be passed on second and third reading on the same day.

Shift on who can define terrorist acts

The lawyers pointed out that under Section 4 of proposed legislation acts that “ intended to cause extensive interference with a critical infrastructure,” which include telecommunications, transportation, radio and television, is considered terrorism.

This is unconstitutional, said the CLCL as it seeks to punish acts “which are in no way terrorism.”

The NUPL, in a separate statement, noted that the bill “contains imprecise and poorly worded provisions on the definition of ‘terrorist act,’” as it seeks to criminalize “threats to commit, planning to commit, conspiring and prosing...the vague concept of ‘terrorist acts.’”

The bill also moves to shift the definition of terrorism to effect upon the government, instead of its effect on the people, CLCL said.

“The danger therein lies with how the government can construe legitimate acts of dissent or opposition within these definitions—it gives the government almost free reign in determining who are ‘suspected terrorists,” the group said.

“Even ordinary citizens airing their grievances against government on social media may fall within its ambit,” they added.

Even without the imposition of the bill, authorities have started arresting social media users and accusing them of violations of the Revised Penal Code such as the “unlawful use of means of publication and unlawful utterances.”

Arrests have also be carried for social media users who post improbable threats against the president, commentary on the usage of public funds and even satirical posts.

Delegation of court functions to the Executive 

The lawyers also said the measure allows the creation of an Anti-Terror Council, to be composed of executive officials, will have the power to authorize law enforcement agents or military personnel to detain a person suspected of committing acts listed in the law.

“Section 29 of the proposal empowers law enforcement agents to arrest and detain without warrant ‘suspected’ persons, for extraordinary periods up to 24 days without charges,” they pointed out.

But this is in violation of Section 18 of the Constitution which provides that detention without charges cannot go beyond three days, even if the privilege of habeas corpus is suspended.

Expanded surveillance

The bill supports “secret surveillance,” the lawyers noted, which means that suspects “will have already been hauled to jail before they are made aware of actions against them.”

Surveillance has also been broadened. With an order from the Court of Appeals, law enforcement agents and military personnel “may...secretly wiretap, overhear and listen to, intercept, screen, read, survey, record or collect...any private communications.”

The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, in a statement, warned that the passage of this law would mean “’uninvited guests’ peering into our private spaces.”

Lack of safeguards

The lawyers also pointed out that the proposed legislation notably “lacks safeguards against the abuse of these powers.”

“It does not penalize malicious obtaining of authority from the courts for surveillance, or refusal to restore or delay in restoring, seized, sequestered and frozen bank deposits, accounts, assets and records,” they said.

It only did away with the payment to those falsely accused of terrorism included in the Human Security Act of 2007, which this “Anti-Terror” bill seeks to repeal. Under HSA, the acquittal or dismissal of charges against an accused entitles him to P500,000 a day for the period when his assets were seized.

Reject the bill

NUPL stressed that the public should fervently resist the passage of the controversial bill, “not only to protect those voices of the critical of the government, but also to protect everyone else who wishes to speak freely.”

CLCL called on the public: “As we precariously step out of our doors today, it is not the time to be silent or passive aggressive about the violence progression around us, resounding from executive and legislative chambers to the police checkpoints and enforcement measures on the ground.”

They urged: “Reject the Anti-Terrorism Bill as well as the HSA of 20017, in favor of stronger democratic, pro-people laws, and to stand with us against state terrorism, especially the kind we have seen and suffered under the Duterte administration.”

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