Fighting ‘terrorist’ virus
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - June 24, 2020 - 12:00am

A popular expression among legal practitioners says out of one hundred lawyers, you can get 101 and more opinions on one issue. This seems to be what has been happening in the case of the Anti-Terror Act of 2020 that is going through so many legal to constitutional interpretations and mis-interpretations as well.

President Rodrigo Duterte disclosed last Monday night, the enrolled bill of the Anti-Terror Act is still going through the review by the legal and legislative staff of Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea. But President Duterte clarified this is the “automatic” procedure being followed by his office on any Congress-approved bills before these reach his desk for signing into law.

Himself a lawyer, President Duterte was obviously trying to deflect possible impressions – rightly or wrongly – that the controversial bill might indeed be suffering from legal and constitutional infirmities as claimed by its rabid critics from legal experts and other people opposed to its enactment. Presiding the regular meeting of the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging and Infectious Disease (IATF-MEID), the Chief Executive though strongly hinted he is inclined to sign it into law.

After all, the President certified the Anti-Terror Act of 2020 as an urgent administration measure that facilitated its speedy approval by both chambers of the 18th Congress. It was passed before they adjourned their sessions last June 5. President Duterte strongly hinted the first target of the intensified government’s anti-terror war would be the New People’s Army (NPA) – the military arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

As the Commander-in-chief of the police and military establishments, President Duterte expressed his displeasure on how the CPP-NPA and the Abu Sayyaf bandits have taken advantage of the government being busy in its war against the “invisible” enemy like the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. “The Abu Sayyaf, terrorists with no ideology. The Communist Party with ideology but more pernicious effect which could undermine the peace and security of our country not only this administration, but it can transcend to the next generation, not giving us respite,” the President fumed.

At least 11 Philippine army soldiers were killed and 14 more were wounded after an armed encounter with the Abu Sayyaf group in Patikul, Sulu last April 17. A month later, another armed encounter between the Army men and the Abu Sayyaf bandits also in Patikul that left 4 soldiers dead and 17 more injured on June 5.

On March 28, around 30 members of the NPA attacked 18 soldiers conducting relief operations under the enhanced community quarantine. The AFP reported NPA led armed extortion activities in Malunay, Quezon on April 1 and in Pantukan, Davao de Oro on April 7.

The President revealed government intelligence have traced the financing sources of the CPP-NPA. On the other hand, the Abu Sayyaf bandits – affiliated with the Iraq-Syria Islamic States (ISIS) – continue with terror attacks in Mindanao.

It should be no wonder why the Philippines ranks ninth in the list of countries that have serious problems on terrorism. The Philippines landed in the list of nations significantly and negatively affected by terrorism in the 2019 Global Terrorism Index (GTI), National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. disclosed. Esperon noted with grave concern the Philippines joined the top ten countries that were ranked in terms of serious impact of the terrorism problem.

No less than the international community, Esperon cited, has been alarmed by the rapidly rising terrorism incidents in the Philippines. “Numerous instances in our past have proven that we are considered a safe haven for international terrorist organizations,” Esperon pointed out.

“As a result, the Philippines has unfortunately been a staging ground for extremist terrorist organizations due to our lax counter-terrorism laws,” Esperon admitted.

The National Security chief pointed to the primary weaknesses of the government’s counter-terrorism efforts were largely due to the infirmities of the existing Human Security Act of 2007 (HSA). Esperon counts on the Anti-Terror Act of 2020 – that will effectively repeal the HSA – to strengthen the government hands to effectively battle the terror threats on both legal and constitutional grounds henceforth.

From our Google search we found the GTI ranked the Philippines among strife-torn countries beset with high terrorism index. Afghanistan leads the top ten countries with the most number of deaths due to terrorist attacks. Iraq, Nigeria, Syria, Pakistan, Somalia, India, and Yemen. Taking the tenth place after the Philippines is the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The Philippines was ranked 36th during the previous year’s GTI review. This was based from the annual GTI comprehensive study analyzing the impact of terrorism for 163 countries. The Global Terrorism Database is said to be the most authoritative data source on terrorism, developed in consultation with the Global Peace Index Expert Panel.

To prevent the expansion of foreign-bred and homegrown terrorism in the Philippines, Esperon underscored the urgent need for the passage into law of the Anti-Terror Act of 2020. Esperon justified the urgency of upgrading, if not only updating the country’s existing laws to address the evolving terrorist threats here and abroad during our Kapihan sa Manila Bay Webinar last week.

He was joined in our tele-conferencing by Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Eduardo Año; National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) director general Alex Monteagudo; and Sen. Panfilo Lacson, principal author and sponsor of Senate Bill (SB) No. 1083, or the Anti-Terror Act of 2020.

Esperon echoed the President’s laments on the seeming mindless attacks by terrorist groups against government personnel and resources already being stretched far too thinly fighting unseen terrorists called COVID virus.

The Anti-Terror Act of 2020 will be the vaccine in fighting the terrorist virus in the Philippines.

ANTI-TERROR ACT
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