Safeguards against abuses intact in proposed anti-terror act

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    SEN. Panfilo Lacson, chairman of the Senate committee on national defense, yesterday allayed fears that the proposed Anti-Terror Act of 2020 can be used to harass legitimate government critics, saying safeguards were put in place to ensure that it cannot be abused by law enforcers.

    At the Kapihan sa Senado forum, Lacson said Senate Bill No. 1083 has strict legal procedures to be followed by law enforcers and has underwent a series of consultations with the Commission on Human Rights and other groups to ensure that the rights of all citizens are respected.

    Senators Francis Pangilinan and Risa Hontiveros, who voted against the approval of the measure, have expressed apprehension that the passage of the new law will used by the government to harass legitimate government critics.

    Pangilinan cited a provision which authorizes the police or military to conduct a 60-day electronic surveillance on suspected terrorists which may be lengthened to another non-extendable period of 30 days.

    Lacson said electronic surveillance operations can be done by the police and military only after they have secured permission from the Court of Appeals, not Regional Trial Courts.

    “In this proposed measure, in-elevate din ‘yan sa Court of Appeals. The reason being baka kasi sa dami ng RTCs, and I agreed with Sen. (Franklin) Drilon, baka ma-abuso naman ang pag-issue ng order of proscription. Remember, may feature dito na hindi lang proscription per se but nagkaroon ng preliminary order of proscription, parang TRO ito, within a certain period of time

    (In this proposed measure, we elevated [the asking of permission to conduct electronic surveillance] to the Court of Appeals because RTCs abound and the issuance of proscription may be abused, and I agreed with that with Sen. Franklin Drilon. Remembers there is also a feature here that proscriptions have a life span like a Temporary Restraining Order),” Lacson said.

    Lacson said warrantless arrests will also have safeguards as law enforcers must strictly observe rules and regulations covering the conduct of such.

    If a suspected terrorist is arrested, he can be detained within a reglamentary period of 14 to 20 calendar days without charges filed against him but the arresting officer must inform the nearest trial court judge, and the CHR office of the arrest.

    Also, Lacson said a legal counsel can visit his client at any given time.

    He said they decided to increase the reglamentary period from the regular 36 hours to 14 calendar days because terrorism is not an ordinary crime like theft but is a crime against humanity.

    “And we’re trying to be at par with other countries especially (with our) neighboring countries natin,” Lacson said.

    He said abusive law enforcers will be meted with a harsher penalty of a jail term of at least 10 years.

    Lacson also assured that the new measure will not curtail the freedom of expression and the freedom to free assembly.

    He said the provision of paying P500,000 per day for wrongfully detained persons included in the Human Security Act of 2007 has already been scrapped since it has been a reason why law enforcers are hesitant to file charges of terrorism for fear they will be forced to compensate a person whose case will be dismissed by the court.

    The Armed Forces assured it will respect human rights with the Senate’s approval of the new anti-terror measure.

    AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo expressed the military’s gratitude to the Senate for passing SBN 1083, which he said will give more teeth to the HSA which security officials have earlier described as weak.

    “The AFP is grateful to the Senate that they heeded our call for a more stringent law that confronts and defines terrorism and what constitutes it, among other new and amendatory provisions it contains,” said Arevalo.

    By passing the measure, Arevalo said “the lawmakers have better empowered and capacitated the AFP and other government security forces in their campaigns to protect and secure our people against the global menace of terrorism.”

    “We assure our countrymen that aside from sufficient safeguards already enshrined in the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act and the Bill of Rights embedded in the 1987 Constitution, the AFP recommits fidelity to the promotion of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law,” said Arevalo.

    Defense department spokesman Arsenio Andolong said the DND “fully supports” the passage of the bill which he said “will empower our defenders to protect our people against those who wish to do them harm.”

    “It is the defense department’s position that a stronger legislative measure against terrorism will enhance our defenders’ capacity to make our communities safer and more secured,” said Andolong.

    “We thank the Senate for recognizing the need to strengthen the institutions that are tasked to safeguard our nation,” added Andolong. – With Victor Reyes