New anti-terror act gets Senate approval

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    THE Senate yesterday approved on third and final reading the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 which was sponsored by Sen. Panfilo Lacson.

    Nineteen of the senators present during at the plenary voted in the affirmative, while Senators Risa Hontiveros and Francis Pangilinan voted against it.

    Senate Bill No. 1083 includes a new section expanding the coverage of foreign terrorist fighters to also include Filipinos nationals who commit terrorist offenses abroad.

    SBN 1083 effectively repeals the Human Security Act of 2007.

    Lacson, in pushing for the new anti-terror law, said the existing law did virtually nothing to deter participation in the plotting of terroristic acts in and out of the country.

    Lacson assured that safeguards were inputted in the measure that will guard against possible abuses by arresting officers.

    He added that the proposed legislation contains provisions that will ensure that the rights and well-being of accused individuals or suspected terrorists inside jail facilities are protected.

    SBN 1083 seeks to penalize individuals who will propose, incite, conspire, participate in the planning, training, preparation and facilitation of a terrorist act; as well as those who will provide material support to terrorists, and recruit members to join a terrorist organization.

    The measure not only establishes Philippine jurisdiction over Filipino nationals who may join and fight with terrorist organizations outside the Philippines but also ensures that foreign terrorists do not use the country as a transit point and safe haven to plan and train new recruits for terrorist attacks in other countries.

    It also introduced a new provision designating certain Regional Trial Courts (RTCs) as Anti-Terror Courts, to facilitate the speedy disposition of cases, and allowed the use of video-conferencing for the accused and witnesses to remotely appear and testify before the courts.

    The bill removed the old provision on the payment of P500,000 damages per day of detention of any person acquitted of terrorism charges, but placed the number of days a suspected person can be detained without a warrant of arrest at 14 calendar days extendible by 10 days.

    It also included an amendment that will allow the police or the military to conduct 60-day surveillance on suspected terrorists which may subject to an extension of another 30 days provided that a judicial authorization from the Court of Appeals (CA) is secured.

    To allay concerns of possible excesses by the authorities, Lacson said any law enforcement or military personnel found to have violated the rights of the accused persons shall be penalized with imprisonment of 10 years.

    The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) shall also be immediately notified in case of detention of a suspected terrorist.

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

    Sen. Francis Pangilinan said he voted against the passage of the bill for fear that it may be used against legitimate critics of the government.

    “This representation fears that the amendments to the Human Security Act right before us may be abused as it will, among others, allow law enforcers or military personnel to place individuals and organizations under surveillance, compel telcos to divulge their calls and messages, arrest people without warrant and detain them for an extended period of 14 days,” Pangilinan said.

    He said such law is reminiscent of the martial law days when those who voice out their opinions against the administration were automatically jailed as what was done to opposition leaders that time like former senators Lorenzo Tanada, Jose Diokno, Jovito Salonga, and Benigno “Ninoy’ Aquino.

    “The current law is not perfect, and we, in Congress should be working continuously to make it work for the people. The amendments, however, are worrisome and could make the Human Security Act an even worse tool for repression, instead of an instrument for thwarting terrorism,” Pangilinan said.