Protesting is not terrorism – DND

Romina Cabrera - The Philippine Star
Protesting is not terrorism â DND
Protesters flash placards calling on lawmakers to junk the anti-terror bill as they stage a picket outside the Batasang Pambansa complex in Quezon City yesterday.
Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana assured the people yesterday that protesters are not terrorists as he allayed fears over the controversial anti-terror bill now awaiting President Duterte’s signature.

Lorenzana defended the bill that has met opposition, even online, as the public raises concern over possible abuse by the state to crack down on dissent.

“They are not terrorists.

Anybody who makes a peaceful protest, they are not terrorists. It is enshrined in our Constitution that you can do peaceful protests, a peaceful assembly. Those are actually protected by the bill of rights,” he told CNN Philippines.

He said there are enough safeguards in the bill to protect the public.

The House approved yesterday on third and final reading the controversial measure that seeks to impose harsher punishment on terrorist acts.

The plenary approved House Bill 6875 or the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act in a vote of 173-31, with 29 abstentions, in virtual session.

The same version of the bill, which gives more teeth to the law against terrorism and effectively repeals the Human Security Act of 2007 (HSA), was passed on third and final reading by the Senate last February.

This means there is no need for a bicameral conference to reconcile the House and Senate versions and the bill now only needs the signature of President Duterte to become law.

The bill defines terrorism by specifying acts with the purpose of inciting fear and seriously destabilizing structures in the country: causing death or serious bodily injuries to any person or endangers a person’s life; causing extensive damage or destruction to a government or public facility, public place or private property; causing extensive interference with, damage or destruction to critical infrastructure; developing, manufacturing, possessing, acquiring, transporting, supplying, or using weapons, explosives, or biological, nuclear, radiological or chemical weapons; or releasing dangerous substances or cause fire, floods and explosions.

Under the measure, those who will propose, incite, conspire and participate in the planning, training and facilitation of a terrorist attack could face a sentence equivalent to life imprisonment.

The same penalty would be meted out to individuals who provide support to terrorists and recruit anyone to be a member of a terrorist organization.

On the other hand, a shorter period of imprisonment for 12 years would be imposed for “threatening” to commit terrorism, inciting others to commit terrorist acts, voluntarily and knowingly joining any terrorist group or association as well as being an accessory in the commission of terrorism.

Under the bill, a suspected person can be detained without a warrant of arrest for 14 days that could be extended by another 10 days, and could also be placed under a 60-day surveillance, which may be extended by another 30 days by the police or the military.

It also designates certain regional trial courts as anti-terror courts to ensure the speedy disposition of cases.

For check and balance and protection of rights of suspected persons, the proposed measure requires law enforcement agencies to notify the Commission on Human Rights whenever a person is detained.

But the bill seeks to repeal the provision in the HSA that awards a sum of P500,000 per day of wrongful detention.

Lorenzana added that there are stringent sanctions against law enforcement agencies on possible abuses.

He defended the longer detention period provided under the bill, which would allow state forces to detain suspected terrorists for 14 days without charges.

He called current laws that provide for a detention lasting 36 hours a “joke” because authorities would not have enough time to substantiate charges in that time.

“We want to make it longer so we can hold the suspect. If he really is a terrorist, then we can hold him longer. He cannot commit a terror act,” he added.

Lorenzana tried to narrow down the definition of terrorism to any organized act or attack that will harm people or inflict damage on public and private property through the use of weapons and bombs.

Even amid the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic, the bill was certified urgent by President Duterte.

Lorenzana said this is timely as terrorists may take advantage of the pandemic.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said yesterday that the proposed Enhanced Human Security Act will not infringe on individual rights of people expressing their grievances against the government.

Roque also dodged insinuations that the proposed amendments to the HSA might bolster efforts by the government to red-tag perceived enemies of the state.

“What I am saying is, despite the law, the Constitution remains as the fundamental guarantee of freedom of expression and the entire jurisprudence that has grown from the constitutional provision on freedom of expression,” he said.

Roque reminded the public that the Constitution is above all laws of the land.

“Let me say that there is a hierarchy of laws in our jurisdiction… There is still the Constitution, which is supreme and laws enacted by Congress,” he said.

Roque said the amendments to the anti-terror measure have been pending for years, dating back to the previous Congress.

“It was authored principally by Senator Ping Lacson. It did not see the light of day in the 17th Congress; it was re-filed in the 18thCongress,” Roque said.

Duterte’s resolve to support amendments to the Human Security Act is rooted in the Marawi siege in May 2017, he said.

Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, PNP deputy chief for operations, told The Chiefs on Cignal TV’s

One News on Tuesday evening that the bill is a welcome development that would give law enforcers more leeway to prevent terrorists from carrying out attacks.

Eleazar did not identify the lawless elements

plotting attacks but the extremist and rebel groups in the country include the Abu Sayyaf and the communist New People’s Army.

Rush to pass

Vice President Leni Robredo questioned yesterday the rush to pass the anti-terror bill, saying the proposed law will not address the most pressing issues the country is facing right now.

Robredo also expressed doubt whether the controversial measure only aims to address terrorism.

“My question is: is terrorism the real target of this terror bill? Or it just wants to give the state the power to brand whom they want to brand as terrorist?” the Vice President said in a statement in Filipino.

Robredo, a human rights lawyer, said only one paragraph was devoted to a program to counter violent extremism, while there are several provisions expanding the classification of terrorists and decreasing check and balances against wrongful arrest.

“This is causing fear that the law might be used to suppress the right of the people to express their sentiments,” she said.

The opposition bloc in the House yesterday vowed to file a petition before the Supreme Court as soon as the proposed Anti-Terrorism Bill is signed into law.

“The provisions in the proposed bill really go against the 1987 Constitution. We are thinking of going to the SC if ever the Anti-Terror bill becomes a law,” House Minority Leader Bienvenido Abante Jr. declared in a videoconference.

Abante, a congressman from the sixth district of Manila, expects to get the support of Reps. Kit Belmonte (Quezon City) and Lawrence Fortun (Agusan del Norte), both lawyers.

Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin, among Abante’s deputies, pointed out that while she is not against the government fighting terrorism, “this must be discussed thoroughly so that if there will be abuses committed, we would have safety nets.”

She said the “biggest terrorist” in the world right now is none other than COVID-19.

Human rights lawyer Chel Diokno also warned the people that the proposed anti-terror law may be used against government’s critics.

Meanwhile, activists belonging to the League of Filipino Students, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, Anakpawis and other progressive groups trooped to the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City to protest the passage of the anti-terrorism bill.

Some Catholic bishops have also expressed concern over the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2019 that allegedly opens an avenue for the government to easily silence its critics. Edu Punay, Christina Mendez, Delon Porcalla, Helen Flores, Emmanuel Tupas, Robertzon Ramires, Rhodina Villanueva


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