AMID opposition from leftist and various sectoral groups to a proposed new anti-terrorism, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana yesterday said the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army, will not be covered by the measure hat will effectively repeal the Human Security Act of 2007 or the anti-terrorism law.
However, if the communists engaged in acts like bombings, they may be considered terrorists.
Lorenzana said the bill, which is just awaiting President Duterte’s signature, cannot be applied to the two communist organizations because they are yet to be proscribed as terrorist organizations by a court.
“Now, if they do bombing, arson whether government or private properties, they would be venturing into the realm of terrorism,” Lorenzana said.
Under the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, persons involved in bombings and burning of government and private properties may be classified as terrorists.
The NPA has burned construction equipment for public and private road projects, plantation and farm equipment, and telecommunications towers, especially those owned by private firms which do not heed its demand for “revolutionary tax” or extortion money.
In 2018, government lawyers asked a Manila City court in 2018 to legally declare the CPP and the NPA as terrorist organizations, pointing to their “terrorist acts,” including ambuscades. The court has yet to issue a decision.
“Officially, they are not a terrorist group because our courts have not proscribed them to be. But since they are staging ambushes and raids against government forces, then they are fair targets of military and police operations,” said Lorenzana.
Lorenzana assured the public that soldiers and policemen would not indiscriminately arrest people once the bill becomes a law. He said the Anti-Terrorism Council will have to approve if a warrantless arrest will be made for terrorism crimes.
“The anti-terrorism law is not martial law… I have been emphasizing that there are (provisions) to safeguard the civil liberties and human rights. Law enforcement agents will not just arrest people (without reason),” he said.
Lorenzana reiterated that activism, dissent, and peaceful demonstrations will not be covered by the bill because “they are not terrorism.”
He told individuals planning to join groups opposing the bill to read the text of the proposed legislation “because there’s a lot of misinformation and disinformation coming out.”
Among the contentious provisions of the measure are the detention of suspected terrorists for up to 24 days without a warrant of arrest, and the conduct surveillance and wiretap of suspected terrorists for up to 90 days.
The Department of Justice is reviewing the bill and will submit its recommendations to President Duterte before he signs it into law.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the President has yet to receive the enrolled copy of the bill.
Justice Undersecretary Markk Perete, at during the “Laging Handa” public briefing, said it has been customary for the Office of the President to ask for the opinion of agencies involved or would be involved in the implementation of would-be laws.
Perete also said the DOJ will expedite its review and submission of opinion on the proposed law, acknowledging that the President has also certified the bill as urgent.
He also acknowledged the concerns of some sectors about certain provisions of the bill but said based on his cursory reading, there are several requirements for a person or an activist to be considered a terrorist or their actions can be considered as an act terrorism.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, one of the principal authors of the bill at the Senate, said the DOJ can interfere in the passage of the bill by recommending its veto as it passage at the House last week could no longer be recalled.
After the approval, several congressmen changed their votes.
“The DOJ can still interfere by advising the President to veto the bill altogether. Remember, this is not a revenue measure nor is it a budget measure. There’s no line item veto here. It’s either the President vetoes the bill in whole, not in part, or he approves it,” Lacson said.
Lacson, however, said the President will unlikely veto the bill which he has certified as urgent.
Lacson also lamented that people tend to read the proposed measure “not in its totality but piecemeal,” that is why there are those who do not understand the bill.
“Meaning, they stop reading at a certain portion. But if they read the total provisions in the definition of terrorism, they will not arrive at the conclusion that what they are doing now,” he said.
Party-list group Anak Mindanao (Amin) and 58 other civil society organizations are opposing the proposed Anti-Terrorism Bill of 2020, saying it is a potential instrument of abuse that may further fuel “Islamophobia” and be used to target Moros and other marginalized sectors.
Amin Rep. Amihilda Sangcopan, who led the signing of the Unity Statement against the proposed measure, said it offers a “convenient excuse” for the government to tag ang jail any Muslim as a terrorist.
Sangcopan has voted “No” to the bill on the ground that its enactment can be used to suppress lawful dissent and to silence critics of the government.
“Even an innocent pedestrian may be arrested and jailed for as long as 24 days just by invoking this law. And who knows what could happen to you in those 24 days? That is how dangerous ATB is. It is like legalizing indiscriminate firing: no one is safe, and we, the Muslims, are the easiest of preys,” Sangcopan said.
In the statement, the civil society groups composed mostly of Muslim community organizations said they are wary of the implication on the proposed legislation on their daily lives.
“It is no secret to the majority of Filipinos how our community is perceived when it comes to the issue of terrorism. Any person wearing a black turban and a long beard is already a suspected terrorist,” they said. “Even women wearing the traditional abaya is already tagged a supporter or probably a wife of a terrorist. A simple utterance of Allahu Akbar which only means God is Great automatically evokes fear in the minds of a lot of people.
That’s how easy it is to pin terrorism on any Muslim.”
Nassif Malawan, president of the Metro Manila Muslim Traders Association, said Muslims have been subjected to abuses for years.
“We have been profiled, humiliated and discriminated upon just by looking at our turbans and beards. They call our women ‘wives of terrorists’ because of their black abayas and hijabs. But the truth is we, the Muslims, are the first casualties of terrorism,” he said.
The Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP) said it objects to the inclusion of the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) as “support agencies” of the Anti-Terrorism Council ATC).
CEAP president Fr. Elmer Jose Dizon said they are concerned over whether the designation as “support agencies” empowers DepEd and/or the CHED to obtain confidential information from schools it regulates, or if it will give the ATC access to campuses, thus enabling it to smoke out individuals or organizations suspected of being “fronts” for terrorist organizations.
CEAP, a national association composed of 1,500 Catholic educational institutions in the Philippines, called for a veto of the bill. – With Raymond Africa, Jocelyn Montemayor, Peter Tabingo and Gerard Naval