Palace: Anti-terror bill has enough safeguards

Christina Mendez - The Philippine Star
Palace: Anti-terror bill has enough safeguards
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said there are appropriate procedures to follow under the law in terms of arrest and detention of suspected terrorists.
KJ Rosales, file

Opponents still hope for Rody’s veto

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang said yesterday there are enough safeguards in the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act against possible abuse, and that President Duterte would subject the measure to close scrutiny with “public interest” in mind.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said there are appropriate procedures to follow under the law in terms of arrest and detention of suspected terrorists.

He noted that basic rights remain protected under the Constitution. The courts must also be notified if law enforcers would interrogate a suspect without charges for several days.

“There are safeguards. There is access to the judiciary, and we want to make sure that the rights of the accused will not be violated,” Roque said.

There are also strict provisions for the designation of an act as a terrorist activity, he said.

He again defended the President’s decision to certify the matter as urgent amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Roque corrected his earlier statement that the President can only sign the measure or veto it as a whole instead of in parts.

“The President will not automatically sign a law, it is scrutinized. Although the difference is, you can’t have a line item veto in terms of a normal legislation whereas you can do it in a budget bill. But that’s how the process works in Malacañang,” Roque said.

He added that the recommendations of the Department of Justice (DOJ) will also be important once the Chief Executive acts on the measure.

“I think it’s very influential because the DOJ is still the legal adviser of the President… even if he has his own legal office within Malacañang itself… Let me stress this: there has not been a budget bill signed into law without a specific veto coming from the President,” he said.

Duterte will be thinking of the interest of the Filipino people once he signs the measure, Roque said.

“Let me manage expectations… the President did certify it as urgent, so he agrees with the principal author of the bill, Sen. Ping Lacson, that there is a need for the law. But let’s just say that the public interest on the bill will make the President review the provisions even more,” he said.

Presidential veto

With the proposed Anti-Terrorism Bill (ATB) already with Malacañang, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) on Tuesday evening expressed hope that Duterte would veto its unconstitutional provisions.

IBP president Domingo Cayosa said in an interview with “The Chiefs” on Cignal TV’s One News that contrary to the belief of some that the next battleground against the ATB is with the Supreme Court, it is actually still with the Office of the President (OP).

Cayosa said they remain hopeful that the President, being a lawyer, after reading the ATB would return the bill to Congress and inform the legislators of its unconstitutional provisions.

“The next battleground is not the Supreme Court, it is still the Office of the President. That is why we are addressing the same concerns to the Office of the President… and we are hoping and requesting that the Office of the President reviews the law especially those unconstitutionally or questionable provisions because in the past this President has vetoed provisions of laws or laws that are unconstitutional,” said Cayosa.

He said it does not have to be the DOJ or other individuals pointing out the unconstitutional provisions, these could be seen by the President once he has read the bill submitted by both houses of Congress.

If before signing the ATB, Duterte would find doubtful provisions and he would want to be faithful to the Constitution, Cayosa said the President could veto the bill and explain his reasons for vetoing portions he finds objectionable, and send it back to Congress.

But even if Duterte decides to veto the ATB, Cayosa said Congress could override it with a vote of two-thirds of all its members and the bill can become a law with or without the President’s signature.

Political science professors of De La Salle University called on the President yesterday to veto the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.

In a statement, they said even if the proposed law does not “include advocacy, protest, dissent, stoppage of work, industrial or mass action and other similar exercises of civil and political rights,” Section 4 of the bill “can become obscured with the latter potentially being severely penalized.”

Section 4 of the bill states that “provided, that, terrorism as defined in this Section shall not include advocacy, protest, dissent, stoppage of work, industrial or mass action and other similar exercises of civil and political rights, which are not intended to cause death or serious physical harm to a person, to endanger a person’s life or to create a serious risk to public safety.”

“The broad definition of terrorism under the proposed law therefore blurs the line between being an active citizen and being an enemy of the state,” they also said.

Aside from Section 4, the group also believes Section 29 “violates the due process of the law and even goes beyond court rules on warrantless arrest.”

“We, the faculty members of the Political Science Department of De La Salle University, recognize the need for the state to legislate and improve its capacity to protect Filipinos against domestic and international terrorism,” they said.

Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año urged yesterday critics of the bill to first read the proposed measure in its entirety before lambasting it in public.

He said critics should read it since the things that they are protesting are not in the proposed law.

There has been opposition to the ATB from leftist groups and other sectors that aired concern that the law will be used by Duterte against critics of his administration.

Año allayed these concerns as he explained that the bill, if Duterte signs it into law, has enough safety nets to prevent law enforcers from committing abuses.

The measure, once enacted, will effectively repeal the Human Security Act of 2007. Among its provisions is allowing lawmen to detain suspected terrorists for a period of up to 24 days without charges.

Sen. Leila de Lima said the growing opposition against the ATB is an indication of hope among Filipinos to resist abuses by people in power.

“There’s still hope. The growing pushback against Terror Bill is a united voice of Filipinos against abuses by those in power,” De Lima said.

Those of constitutional experts like former senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and human rights lawyers Chel Diokno and Theodore Te are the more erudite and convincing voices on the legal professional fronts. While those of known showbiz and sports personalities are of equally persuasive force, listened to by the masses and ordinary folks.

“No, the public is not being disinformed about the dangers of the terror bill. People are simply waking up. A citizenry’s renewed vigilance. Guarding against threats to civil liberties. Protecting our democracy. Standing up for our freedoms,” she said.

Army chief Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay said members of the communist New People’s Army (NPA) will be one of the targets of the ATB.

Gapay said the NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, is well within the definition of terrorism under the proposed legislation.

“Of course, if they espouse violence and we have seen how, you know, they have killed innocent civilians, even us in the uniformed and the security sector employing treachery, ambushes and using IEDs,” he said in an interview on ANC.

Following Gapay’s statement, Armed Forces chief Gen. Felimon Santos issued a clarification and said the bill does not have a specific target.

“The proposed law is not targeting any specific organization, group or individual. But if any of them commits an act or acts which are included in the definition of terrorism, then they will be prosecuted and penalized under the proposed law,” he said in a message sent to reporters.

Still, Gapay noted that the bill aims to address all local terrorist groups and extremists that have been plaguing the country for decades.

Cybercrime law expert Jose Jesus Desini Jr. hinted at the possibility that the recent cloning of accounts on Facebook might have been instigated to stop dissenting opinions on the ATB.

Desini said that while Facebook and the National Bureau of Investigation are still conducting their investigations into the multiple fake Facebook accounts that were noticed over the weekend, he raised the possibility that this activity might have been done by those who would want to silence the discussions on the ATB on Facebook, which is a very popular social media among Filipinos.

“If I would play conspiracy theorist, I could say the reason is to create this kind of discussion, fear. People would be afraid if their Facebook account would be used against them as a way to stop conversation, to stop this issue. In a sense, you could argue it is already working,” said Desini.

When asked if he was referring to the ATB, he replied, “That is currently under discussion. There is a possibility that is the discussion they don’t want people to have.”

He added that troll farms might have been responsible for the creation of multiple fake Facebook accounts. These farms have been in existence for 10 to12 years and operating mostly from Cebu. One troll can be responsible for 200 to 300 fake Facebook accounts. Evelyn Macairan, Helen Flores, Emmanuel Tupas, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Romina Cabrera


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