9 Cebu solons vote back Anti-Terror Bill
Mitchelle L. Palaubsanon (The Freeman) - June 5, 2020 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines —  At least nine members of House of Representatives from Cebu voted “yes” to the Anti-Terrorism Bill on third and final reading at the House of Representatives Wednesday.

Eight of the lawmakers are Representatives Raul del Mar (Cebu City North), Eduardo Gullas (1st district), Pablo John Garcia (3rd district), Janice Salimbangon (4th district), Duke Frasco (5th district), Emmarie Ouano-Dizon (6th district), Peter John Calderon (7th district), and Paz Radaza (Lapu-Lapu City).

Ako Bisaya Partylist Rep. Sonny Lagon, a Cebuano, also voted for the bill’s passage.

Meanwhile, Rep. Wilfredo Caminero (2nd district) could not be ascertained how he voted while Rep. Rodrigo Abellanosa (Cebu City South) abstained.

The Lower House passed the bill in a vote of 173-31, with 29 abstentions.

Gullas, Radaza, Dizon

In explaining his vote, Gullas cited the need to improve on the “shortcomings” of the Human Security Act, particularly with prosecuting suspected terrorists.

However, Gullas expressed his reservations on the constitutionality of certain parts of the bill: Section 4 for being “overly vague,” and Section 29 for authorizing the detention of suspected terrorists for up to 24 days without judicial order.

Radaza, for her part, justified her vote by saying terrorism could happen anytime, even during pandemic.

“We need a very strong measure, with equally strong check and control mechanism, against terrorism which may strike anytime even during pandemic when we are most vulnerable,” she said.

Ouano-Dizon said that because terrorism knows no rules with all the heinous acts that terrorists are capable of doing, the country needs to enact better laws to counter them.

“I am confident that the bill has provisions against abuse by law enforcers, who would not be allowed to detain a terror suspect unless authorized by the Anti-Terrorism Council,” she said.

Ouano-Dizon added that the bill is very clear and specific that it does not include advocacies, protests, or mass actions that do not intend to cause harm.

Garcia, Calderon, Salimbangon

Garcia explained that the country needs a new anti-terrorism law more responsive to the changing times and the changing tactics of terrorists.

“Why now? Because we cannot wait for disaster to strike before we pass a law to sufficiently arm our law enforcement officials against the ever-present threat. Some quarters have raised the possibility of abuse.

“I urge them to read the bill. I would say half of the significant provisions of the bill relate to penalties against those who would misuse or abuse the law, and those who violate the rights of suspects. It even mandates the Commission on Human Rights to give the highest priority to investigating and prosecuting abuse of the law and violation of the rights of suspects,” Garcia said.

Garcia added that on the possibility of applying "terrorism" to "activism" or legitimate dissent, not only does the law sufficiently define what terrorism is but the definition of terrorism is also settled in jurisprudence.

Calderon said that he voted in favor of the bill to protect the country and its people from terrorism and terrorists.

“I am aware that there are questions and fears that have come out in connection with the bill but if the bill is read in its entirety, there are safeguards against possible abuse of the law,” Calderon said.

Salimbangon, meanwhile, said that to combat terrorism, order must be properly observed and people must observe the rule of law.

Del Mar, Lagon

Del Mar said he believes strongly that the Human Security Act of 2007, which the current bill seeks to repeal and replace, has not addressed the problem of terrorism because of so many restrictions on police and military.

“I believe that the flaws of the Human Security Act must be corrected now when the threat of terrorism is not yet a clear and present danger. Pray, when must the weapons in preserving democracy and our way of life be ready?  Surely not after the enemy will have breached our gates and assaulted us,” Del Mar said.

However, he also expressed his concerns about some aspects of the bill, which many of his constituents in Cebu City also reportedly share.

One is the part that allows warrantless arrests and longer detention without charges: 24 days with the suspect/s not being informed of the specific charges.

Del Mar also said there is no longer a requirement that the suspect be presented to a judge for assessment whether the arrested person was tortured. There is also no deterrent against torture which can exact admissions from the guilty but also from the innocent.

Also, he said that many of the crimes are punishable with life imprisonment and thus non-bailable and that the bill expands the list of persons who may subjected to surveillance or wiretapping and impose restrictions on travel of terrorism suspects.

Del Mar is also concerned over the addition of new crimes, including proposal or threat to commit terrorism, planning, training, or facilitating the commission of terrorism, and even inciting to commit terrorism.

Still, Del Mar trusts the assurance of his colleagues in the House and the Senate that the law would not be used to suppress legitimate acts of dissent and brand them as acts of terrorism.

As for Lagon, people do not have to go far to realize that the threat of terrorism remains imminent.

Lagon said that the fight against terrorism is a global effort, hence, the Philippines must join the international community in this fight. The first step to do, he said, is to update and strengthen our laws against terrorism.

Abellanosa abstains

Explaining his abstention, Abellanosa said the bill has been unreasonably rushed towards adjournment of Congress’ regular session and amid the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving very insufficient time for deliberations and consultations on very critical issues.  JMD (FREEMAN)

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