- Suspect may be held for 24 days without an arrest warrant
- Surveillance for 60 days
President Rodrigo Duterte signed into law the controversial anti-terrorism bill that seeks to strengthen the country’s ability to combat terrorism, but which the political opposition and human rights groups denounce as a dangerous measure that is prone to abuse.
READ: UNHRC chief to Du30: Don't sign terror bill
Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano and presidential spokesman Harry Roque both confirmed the signing of the anti-terrorism law, which replaces the Human Security Act of 2007.
“As we have said, the President, together with his legal team, took time to study this piece of legislation weighing the concerns of different stakeholders,” the Palace statement said.
“Terrorism, as we often said, strikes anytime and anywhere. It is a crime against the people and humanity; thus, the fight against terrorism requires a comprehensive approach to contain terrorist threat. The signing of the aforesaid law demonstrates our serious commitment to stamp out terrorism, which has long plagued the country and has caused unimaginable grief and horror to many of our people.”
“Together, let us defeat terrorism and make our communities safe and secure under the rule of law,” it added.
The principal author of the bill, Senator Panfilo Lacson, said the “Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020” aims to secure the country and its people against domestic and foreign terrorist attacks.
He said the bill adheres to the Bill of Rights in the Constitution.
The President earlier said that even with the COVID-19 pandemic, terrorism is still the top threat.
“Terrorism is number one on our list. Actually the number one threat to the country, it’s not Abu Sayyaf, it’s not terrorists of no value. The high-value targets are communists,” he said.
The new law will give more teeth to the provisions of the Human Security Act of 2007.
Under the proposed measure, suspected terrorists may be held for up to 24 days without a warrant of arrest. The law also allows a 60-day period for surveillance of suspected terrorists, which may be extended for another 30 days.
READ: Duterte OK with 14-day detention in anti-terror bill
A person who voluntarily or knowingly joins a terrorist organization will face 12 years in prison under the new law.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the Anti-Terrorism Law is full of safeguards against abuse, it is strong against terrorists.
“I cannot imagine this measure being signed under another administration. If only for this, I take my hat off to the President,” Sotto said.
Lacson said they crafted the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 based on the guidelines and standards set by the United Nations Security Council’s Resolution 1373. It was the UN that prodded the Philippines to strengthen its laws against terrorism, he added.
Lacson also said some critics jumped on the bandwagon of denunciation without thoroughly reading and understanding the provisions of the law.
He said misinterpretation and misconceptions triggered by “an avalanche of misinformation and disinformation” dominated the mainstream and social media platforms and unduly influenced people’s thinking.
He assured the public that the law was a good one—“one that is swift, effective and most importantly constitutional.”
Senator Francis Pangilinan, however, vowed to challenge the constitutionality of the law before the Supreme Court.
“I am not surprised,” he said about the signing of the bill. “From Day 1 this administration unleashed draconian and authoritarian measures as a showcase of its brand of leadership.”
He said the law was a “draconian measure” that was nothing more than “a show of senseless, mindless violence as means to sow fear among the people.”
“From the murderous drug war, to the longest martial law in Mindanao, to the longest lockdown in the world, and now to the anti-terror law."
The drug war, he said, has not neutralized any big drug lords and drugs still flow after four years.
He also said martial law in Mindanao did not address the need for the reconstruction of Marawi, just as the longest lockdown failed to address the continuing spread of COVID-19.
“All this proves that an iron fist is not the solution to our problems,” he said in Filipino.
He added that the anti-terror law will not address the problem of a disease and hunger due to the pandemic.
Human Rights Watch also condemned the new law.
“By signing the Anti-Terrorism Bill into law, President Duterte has pushed Philippines democracy into an abyss,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia directo at Human Rights Watch.
“The law threatens to significantly worsen the human rights situation in the Philippines, which has nosedived since the catastrophic war on drugs began four years ago. The Anti-Terrorism Law will give a green light to the systematic targeting of political critics and opponents, as well as ordinary Filipinos who dare to speak out. Human Rights Watch is especially concerned by provisions that permit warrantless arrests and weeks of incommunicado detention, which facilitates torture and mistreatment. The law threatens increased ‘red tagging’ of activists, journalists, and social media users, with dire effects for freedom of expression. Foreign governments should publicly denounce this development, which amounts to a stealth declaration of martial law.”
Opposition lawmakers also bemoaned the passage of the law.
“President Rodrigo Duterte’s signing into law the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 further stifles dissent, imposes prior restraint to freedom of expression, derogates civil liberties, and institutes state terrorism,” said Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman.
He added that the safeguards that were present in the Human Security Act of 2007 have been obliterated by the new law and “replaced with motherhood declarations which are orphaned by oppressive provisions.”
“The new law installs national security to a high pedestal while it demotes civil liberties to a lowly footstool,” he added.
Assistant Minority Leader and ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro echoed Lagman’s opposition.
“Despite strong opposition and clear violations of basic human rights under its provisions, President Duterte signed the Anti-Terror Law. Not only did he sign the terror bill into law, Duterte just signed a death warrant to the human rights of every man, woman, and child in the Philippines,” Castro said.
READ: ULAP president Cua backs bill on anti-terrorism