âPhilippines Anti-Terror Law mandates HR protectionâ
Ambassador Jose Manuel Romualdez made the assurance in a letter dated July 16 to 45 US lawmakers who had called for the repeal of the Philippines’ Anti-Terror Law or Republic Act 11479. The US lawmakers relayed their concern to the Philippine embassy on July 15.
Boy Santos, file

‘Philippines Anti-Terror Law mandates HR protection’

Christina Mendez (The Philippine Star) - July 19, 2020 - 12:00am

Phl envoy to US lawmakers: Safeguards vs abuse provided

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine government has assured the US Congress of its commitment to protect human rights and civil liberties in the enforcement of the Anti-Terrorism Law, which took effect yesterday.

Ambassador Jose Manuel Romualdez made the assurance in a letter dated July 16 to 45 US lawmakers who had called for the repeal of the Philippines’ Anti-Terror Law or Republic Act 11479. The US lawmakers relayed their concern to the Philippine embassy on July 15.

“The Philippines remains committed to the protection of civil and political liberties as well as human rights. The Anti-Terrorism Act itself strongly mandates that human rights shall be absolute and protected at all times,” Romualdez said.

“What the law signifies is the Philippine Government’s strong resolve to combat terrorism and to implement a more effective and comprehensive approach to such a serious threat that knows no borders,” he added.

He said he is open to discussing issues with the “esteemed members of the US Congress on matters of sovereign importance to the Philippines.”

He added such issues “may have a bearing on the deep and long-standing alliance between our two countries.”

He underscored how the fight against terrorism has become a “defining area” in the defense and security cooperation between the Philippines and the US.

To assuage fears the new law would be used against critics of the Duterte administration, Romualdez explained that the Anti-Terrorism Act “expressly excludes legitimate exercises of the freedom of expression and to peaceably assembly, including engaging in advocacy, protest, dissent, mass action and other similar exercises that 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 law also provides significant safeguards to prevent abuses in, for example, the detention of persons without warrant,” he pointed out.

The law took effect yesterday despite the absence of implementing rules and regulations (IRR), but Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said compliance with publication requirements was enough to set the law into motion. The law is now printed in the Official Gazette.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. earlier said the US lawmakers should stop meddling in the Philippines’ internal processes as the country is no longer a US colony.

He noted that several petitions pending with the Supreme Court would test the constitutionality of the new law.

In his letter to US lawmakers, Romualdez said the warrantless arrest provision in the Anti-Terror Law “is also not materially dissimilar from the anti-terrorism laws of other countries, including in the West.”

“Importantly, the powers of determining with finality who are to be regarded as terrorists resides with the judicial system through proscription,” Romualdez added.

One of the US lawmakers, Janice Schakowsky, called the new law a weapon designed to suppress dissent in the Philippines.

Better than HSA

Romualdez also shared the view of the country’s security officials on the need to enact a better law than the 2007 Human Security Act (HSA), which was repealed upon the approval by Congress of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.

“The Anti-Terrorist Act aims to plug the loopholes in the Human Security Act by putting in place a more effective legal framework that would enable a criminal justice response to terrorist acts beyond that allowed for by the Revised Penal Code,” he said.

He added that concerns raised over the new law’s possible impact on civil liberties may have “diluted the real legislative intent behind the law, which is to uphold the policy of the state to protect life, liberty and property from terrorism.”

“The law properly defines what are to be considered terrorist acts, predicated by certain essential conditions, i.e., violent actions and violent purposes,” he explained.

In justifying the need for the new law, Romualdez emphasized that the Philippines ranked 9th in the Global Terrorism Index of 2019, considered the “highest negative impact of terrorism among countries in the Asia Pacific region.”

The report discussed how the New People’s Army, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and other ISIS-affiliated groups such as the Abu Sayyaf Group dominated terrorist activities in the Philippines.

Romualdez also cited how ISIS-linked militants belonging to the Maute group disrupted peace and stability in Marawi City, which they seized and occupied in 2017 before being driven away by security forces in a months-long battle that left hundreds dead, thousands displaced and $1.38 billion worth of infrastructure and livelihood lost.

RA11479 creates a council appointed by the President called Anti-Terrorism Council, which can designate individuals and groups as terrorists and detain them without charge for up to 24 days. It also allows for surveillance and wiretaps and punishments that include life imprisonment without parole.

Two of the main proponents of the law, Sen. Panfilo Lacson and Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, have called on the public to be vigilant against abuses despite safeguards stipulated in the law.

“Now that the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 is in effect, the Filipino people are assured of a law that allows the Philippines to mount the needed strong response against the threat of terrorism,” Lacson said.

“As the one who painstakingly sponsored the measure in the Senate, I will not allow anyone to pervert the legislative intent of the law, thus my commitment to go the extra mile in guarding against possible abuse in its implementation,” Lacson said.

“It is the responsibility of all Filipinos to see to it the law is implemented properly – meaning, it is meant to go after terrorists and not anyone else. Thus, the efforts of some groups to similarly keep watch against abuses despite the safeguards already in place are very much welcome, so long as they avail of the proper venues and follow safety protocols,” he pointed out.


He decried what he called disinformation peddled by administration foes to discredit the law.

“We cannot afford to have disinformation campaigns aimed to make the public reject the Anti-Terrorism Law. Terrorism knows no timing or borders. I hope the day will not come that critics of the law – especially those behind the disinformation drives – will be at the receiving end of terrorist attacks,” he said.

Drilon, for his part, said law enforcers cultivate people’s trust. “You cannot legislate trust. That matter is left with law enforcement, trust is always earned, never imposed,” he said.

“I introduced 14 amendments all designed to balance and protect the rights of the people and all I can say is I tried my best. I can face anyone and say I am not favoring anyone,” Drilon said.

“Whether or not it was sufficient or it was correct, that is a matter for the court to decide,” he added.

In supporting the anti-terror measure, the opposition senator said he took into account information that the previous Human Securities Act had been very ineffective in providing a legal weapon to fight terrorism.

“It was in my desire to have a balance between the desire to prevent terrorism and balance it with the rights of the people. I have done my best,” he said.

Anticipating more legal battles following the enforcement of the Anti-Terror Act, Solicitor General Jose Calida lashed out at critics for their “baseless allegations of vagueness of the law, unjustified fears of abuse and imagined conjectures.”

Calida, in a statement, insisted that the law is in accordance with the country’s policy to protect life, liberty and property from terrorism.

“This stems from the general duty of all States to protect individuals under their jurisdiction against interference in the enjoyment of their human rights. More specifically, the enactment of this law is part of the Philippines’ obligation to ensure respect for the right to life and the right to security,” he said.

Calida added that the law is needed to “fight the continuous and aggressive security threats brought about by terrorism.”

Waiting for IRR

Meanwhile, the Philippine National Police (PNP) vowed to wait first for release of the law’s implementing rules and regulations (IRR) before enforcing it.

“The PNP will wait for the IRR to be crafted and finalized by the Anti-Terrorism Council together with the Department of Justice and other law enforcement agencies,” PNP spokesman Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac said yesterday.

The PNP, Banac said, decided to wait first for the IRR to ensure that all details on the law’s operational aspect are laid down.

“There are provisions on the administrative side which are already in effect but on the operational side, we need to go into specifics to avoid misunderstanding or mishaps,” he said.

While waiting for the IRR, Banac said operating units will continue to implement existing laws to protect the country from terrorists.

For DOJ’s Guevarra, police can actually make arrest “depending on the actual circumstances on the ground.”

“If the government has intelligence information that an ISIS-infiltrated group is about to blow up the MRT, our law enforcers will probably not wait for the promulgation of the IRR to take the appropriate action,” he said.

“Otherwise, if there are no such imminent threats, it will really be more prudent to await the promulgation of the IRR. For example, what constitutes ‘threat to commit terrorism?’ ‘Proposal to commit terrorism?’ These are one-liner sections of the anti-terror law that need to be fleshed with more detail for the guidance of everyone,” Guevarra said.

Lawyers’ group National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) called on the people to be vigilant.

“Let us stand our ground, be vigilant, call out the authorities, push back and slay the Frankenstein they created as soon as it rears its ugly head in any guise, form, excuse or justification,” NUPL president Edre Olalia said in a statement.

“At the same time, we will not give up the fight, not today, not tomorrow, not ever, for we will not be muted and terrorized into submission. If the government wants to fight the real terrorists with repressive measures and oppressive mindsets, do it not in our name,” he said.

“We are still giving a good shot at available legal remedies with the hope that the Supreme Court will step up to the plate and be a proactive refuge against the overreach of authoritarian political power,” he added.  Cecille Suerte-Felipe, Ralph Villanueva, Emmanuel Tupas, Robertzon Ramirez

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