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Controversial new anti-terrorism bill now up for Duterte's signature

GMA News Online logo GMA News Online 6/3/2020 ERWIN COLCOL,GMA News
Rodrigo Duterte sitting at a table: Duterte defends Duque amid alleged overpriced PPE procurement Duterte defends Duque amid alleged overpriced PPE procurement

The controversial new anti-terrorism bill is now up for President Rodrigo Duterte's signature after the House of Representatives on Wednesday approved it on third and final reading.

Voting 173 in the affirmative, 31 negative and 29 abstentions, the chamber approved House Bill 6875, which seeks to strengthen the government’s fight against terrorism and virtually repeals the Human Security Act of 2007.

The measure was approved on final reading only a day after it got the second reading approval.

The chamber was able to fast-track its approval after President Rodrigo Duterte certified the measure as urgent "in order to adequately and effectively contain the menace of terrorist acts for the preservation of national security and the promotion of general welfare."

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The House Committees on Public Order and Safety and on National Defense and Security on Friday adopted the Senate's version of the measure, which has been approved on third and final reading last February.

Since there are no disagreeing provisions between the Senate and House versions, the measure becomes an enrolled bill and there will be no need for a bicameral conference committee, said PBA party-list Representative Jericho Nograles, an author of the measure.

"When approved on third reading, it will be an enrolled bill for the action of the President. He may sign, veto any or all provisions, or not act on the measure for it to lapse into law," he said.

Terrorism defined

The measure defines terrorism as an act committed by a person within or outside the Philippines who engages in activities intended to cause death or serious bodily injury to any person or endanger's a person's life, and to cause extensive damage or destruction to a government or public facility, public place or private property.

Terrorism is likewise committed by a person who engages in acts intended to cause extensive interference with, damage or destruction to critical infrastructure, and develops, manufactures, possesses, acquires, transports, supplies, or uses weapons, explosives or of biological, nuclear, radiological or chemical weapons.

Under the measure, any person who will threaten to commit terrorism will be imprisoned for 12 years. The same jail term will be imposed on those who will propose any terroristic act or incite others to commit terrorism.

At the same time, any person who will volunteer or join any organization, association or group of persons knowing that such is a terrorist organization will also be imprisoned for 12 years. The same penalty will be imposed on any person found liable as an accessory in the commission of terrorism.

The measure not only places Filipino nationals who may join terrorist organizations outside the country under Philippine jurisdiction but also ensures that foreign terrorists do not use the country as a transit point for terrorist activities.

It also removes the provision on payment of P500,000 damages per day of detention of any person acquitted of terrorism charges.

The number of days a suspected person can be detained without a warrant of arrest, however, is set to 14 days and can be extended by 10 days.

The measure mandates certain Regional Trial Courts be designated as Anti-Terror Courts in order to ensure the speedy disposition of cases.

It also allows the police or the military to conduct a 60-day surveillance on suspected terrorists, and can be lengthened to another non-extendable period of 30 days if a judicial authorization has been secured from the Court of Appeals.

Any law enforcement or military personnel found to have violated the rights of the accused persons will face a jail sentence of 10 years.

Safeguards

To douse concerns of possible abuse by authorities, the measure mandates that the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) be notified in case of detention of a suspected terrorist.

It also tasks the CHR to give the highest priority to the investigation and prosecution of violations of civil and political rights of persons and to have the concurrent jurisdiction to prosecute public officials, law enforcers and other persons who may have violated the rights of suspects and detained persons.

The House Minority bloc has filed a resolution expressing their opposition to the swift approval of the measure "without sufficient time to intelligently deliberate on serious penal provisions and its grave implications."

However, the resolution was only read on first reading earlier in the day.

Concerns have been raised that the proposed measure might be used to target individuals that expressed dissent against the government.

The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers also surmised that its passage will worsen the climate of impunity “that has made the Philippines fertile ground for extra-judicial killings, illegal arrests, and crackdowns against activists and progressive organizations and even ordinary citizens.”

PBA party-list Representative Jericho Nograles, however, assured that the proposed law is not against activists, saying that it only targets terrorists and violent extremists.

"Ang bill na ito ay hindi kontra aktibista. No, we want activism. We promote activism. Ang totoo nga dito ang bill na ito, dahil sa mga aktibista," he said.

"Gusto natin na yung mga aktibista mabigyan ng mga mapayapang paraan para mag-campaign ng mga reforms para sa ating bansa. Pero ang kinakalaban ng ating panukalang batas, ang mga terrorists. Sila ang ating kalaban. And mga violent extremists and mga violent na radical," he added. —LDF, GMA News

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