The House of Representatives on Wednesday night approved on third and final reading the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, which seeks to prevent, prohibit, and penalize terrorism.
READ: Palace: Anti-terror bill no draconian move
Voting 173-31-29, the House approved House Bill 6875 a few days after it was certified urgent by President Duterte. It was approved on second reading Tuesday.
The House Committees on Public Order and Safety and on National Defense and Security last Friday adopted the Senate's version of the measure, which has been approved on third and final reading last February.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Tuesday said the bill was “as good as passed.”
“It will just need my signature if it comes back to us after ratification, then I will transmit to the President," Sotto said in a text message to CNN Philippines, when asked how Congress will fast-track the approval of the measure.
The President called for the immediate passage of the bill “to address the urgent need to strengthen the law on anti-terrorism in order to adequately and effectively contain the menace of terrorist acts for the preservation of national security and the promotion of general welfare.”
READ: Rody certifies anti-terrorism bill as urgent
The bill provides for imposing life imprisonment without parole on individuals who will participate in the planning, training, preparation, and facilitation of a terrorist act; possess objects connected with the preparation for the commission of terrorism; or collect or make documents connected with the preparation of terrorism.
It also provides a penalty of 12-year imprisonment for any person who shall threaten to commit terrorism. The same jail term will be meted against individuals who will propose any terroristic acts or incite others to commit terrorism.
ANTI-TERRORISM BILL PROVISIONS
- Life imprisonment without parole for convicted terrorists
- 12-year jail term for any person who threatens to commit terrorism, proposes terroristic acts, or incites others to commit terrorism
- 12-year jail term for any person who joins a terrorist organization
- A suspected terrorist can be detained without a warrant for 14 days, extendable to 10 more days
- Authorizes wiretapping of suspected terrorists for 90 days, and detention without warrant for a maximum of 24 days
- Empowers Anti-Money Laundering Council to look into bank accounts of suspected terrorists without a specific court order, and freezing these accounts for 20 days up to 6 months
"Any person who shall voluntarily and knowingly join any organization, association, or group of persons knowing that such is a terrorist organization, shall suffer imprisonment of 12 years," the anti-terrorism bill also states.
Under the bill, a suspect can be detained without a warrant for 14 days, and the detention is extendable to 10 more days and can be placed under surveillance for 60 days, extendable by up to 30 more days.
The bill authorizes wiretapping of suspected terrorists for a maximum period of 90 days as an amendment to the Anti-Wiretapping Law or Republic Act 4200 as well as detention without judicial warrant of arrest for a maximum period 24 days of suspected terrorists instead of the present three-day maximum.
READ: New anti-terror measure needed, but left slams it
The bill also empowers the Anti-Money Laundering Council to look into the bank accounts of suspected terrorist groups and persons without a specific court order by freezing such accounts for 20 days, subject to six months’ extension by the Court of Appeals, as an exception to the “Law of Secrecy of Bank Deposits” (R.A. No. 1405).
Vice President Leni Robredo questioned thetiming of the bill and urged lawmakers to instead focus their attention on efforts against COVID-19.
Agencies should focus their whole attention in addressing the public's most immediate and pressing needs, she said.
The Palace, meanwhile, said fears that the anti-terrorism bill would be used to red-tag opposition groups were unfounded.
“Red-tagging by just referring to you as a communist group will not have any legal effect unless a court has declared you to be a terrorist organization,” Palace spokesman Harry Roque said in an interview over ABS-CBN News Channel’s Headstart.
Roque, who was once a human rights lawyer, dismissed the statement by Chel Diokno, chairman of the Free Legal Assistance Group, that the law would allow warrantless arrests based on mere suspicion.
READ: Anti-Terrorism bill ‘legitimizes’ abuse of power—Gabriela
“No. Don’t think the law can amend the rules of court which is the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts. That’s in the Constitution as well. I think we have to study the basics of constitutional law before we conclude. We need to distinguish between statements that politicians would make against the administration from the actual facts,” he said.
Roque said that if there were questions about the constitutionality of the law, critics can challenge them before the courts.
He added that if the law is misused, there are judicial remedies, such as the filing of a writ of Amparo.
But human rights organizations and human rights lawyers expressed concern about the imminent approval in Congress of the new anti-terrorism law.
In a statement, the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) warned that the law is "the last piece of the puzzle" that the Duterte government needs to impose martial law, which it has threatened on several occasions.
"We are appalled that the... government is giving priority to repressive legislation but remains bungling in addressing the pandemic. We have seen too many deaths both from the virus and the violence President Duterte has unleashed against his people," said ICHRP president Peter Murphy.
The Movement Against Tyranny on Wednesday also opposed the new law, which said would expand the already vague and broad definition of terrorism found in the Human Security Act of 2008.
The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), on the other hand, said the new law would preserve the country’s sovereignty and promote peace.
The law would have more teeth to curb terrorist threats and acts, the department said.