National Security Adviser Secretary Hermogenes Esperon Jr. on Sunday said those opposed to the Anti-Terrorism Law of 2020 could be supporters of terrorists.
In an interview with Dobol B sa News TV, Esperon said the new law does not target activists and dissenters.
“The definition of terrorism in Section 4 excludes dissent, advocacy, mass actions and other similar exercises of civil and political rights. It's right there in the definition of terrorism,” he said in Filipino.
“So what are they talking about when they say you will lose your human rights? I think those who are saying that are supporters of terorrists.”
President Rodrigo Duterte signed RA 11479, or the Anti-Terrorism Law of 2020 last week, despite objections from human rights and civil society groups, the opposition and the Bangsamoro Transition Authority.
Esperon said the law would not limit or violate any human rights, saying protesters could march on the streets as long as they wanted because the freedom of expression is guaranteed.
After the law was signed Friday, a group of lawyers led by law professor Howard Calleja challenged it before the Supreme Court and asked the justices to issue a temporary restraining order to stop it from being implemented on July 19, 2020.
The petition, file electronically, will also be brought physically to the Supreme Court Monday.
Senator Francis Pangilinan said he was preparing to file a separate petition before the Supreme Court to challenge provisions of the new law that he said violate the Constitution, including one that would allow warrantless arrests.
He also questioned the broad definition of terrorism that he said could lead to the indiscriminate filing of charges against people who opposed the government.
But Esperon said the government's legal team is ready to answer these challenges before the Supreme Court, and said they would be open to recommendations from lawmakers when they draft the law's implementing rules and regulations.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana urged the public to give the new law a chance.
"It is a much-needed measure to clothe law enforcement agencies with the necessary power to contain and eradicate terrorists who don’t play by any rules and who hide behind our laws to pursue their evil deeds," Lorenzana said in a statement.
He also urged the public to read and understand the law.
"We appeal to the public to give this law a chance and not to be swayed by misinformation and disinformation. We urge everyone to read and understand the law,” he said, adding that the government would ensure that the law is not abused.
The new law or Republic Act 11479 repeals RA 9372 or the Human Security Act of 2007.
It allows the detention of suspected terrorists for up to 24 days without a warrant of arrest. It also allows a 60-day surveillance with an allowable 30-day extension that can be conducted by the police or the military against suspected terrorists.
The law also imposes a 12-year jail term on a person who voluntarily or knowingly joins a terrorist organization.
Malacañang said it will abide by the Supreme Court ruling on the petition challenging the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque made this remark after a group of lawyers electronically filed a petition before the Court to stop the law's implementation.
“The Palace will leave it to the SC to decide on these petitions and will abide by whatever the ruling is,” Roque said in a statement on Sunday.
Earlier, Roque said the anti-terrorism law is “at par” with the anti-terrorism legislation of the developed countries.
He said other countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom had “more draconian” laws compared to the Philippines.
Meanwhile, the National Union of Peoples Lawyers deferred its plan to challenge the legality of the anti-terror law before the SC to include more interested petitioners.
Senator Panfilo Lacson, one of the authors of the measure, said that Section 29 was "merely a restatement" of the same provision in the Human Security Act of 2007.
The Anti-Terrorism Council, he said, would not have the authority to order arrests of suspected terrorists.
Lacson also said safeguards in the law would make abuses very costly for law enforcers to commit. He said a mere non-compliance with the immediate written notification to the judge of the court nearest the place of arrest, as well as the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), not to mention technical surveillance or wiretapping on suspected terrorists without judicial authorization from the Court of Appeals and more can send them to prison for 10 years, and bar them from holding public office and deprive them of retirement and other benefits.
Also on Sunday, Muntinlupa City Rep. Ruffy Biazon said he and fellow lawmakers would draft and come up with recommendations for the implementing rules and regulations of the newly signed Anti-Terrorism Law of 2020 to allay fears of abuses.
Biazon was the principal author of RA 11479 but later pulled out his authorship and even voted “no” to the passage of the bill, saying he was not content with some of its provisions, which were open to misinterpretation.
“If we would make a law, we want to ensure that all is clear, and all the things we have to do so it would be a subject to different interpretations, especially to different implementations,” he said.
He said he is hoping that those unclear provisions in the law would later be clarified, particularly Section 25 on the designation of a “terrorist.”
“The way the provision is written is, before one could be designated as a terrorist, there must be a probable cause… a probable cause that shall be determined by the judiciary or a judicial process, and not just by an arbitrary designation by the Anti-Terrorism Council,” Biazon said.
“That is one thing we could cure when it comes to the IRRs… restating the determination of a probable cause by the prosecutors or by the judges for clarity to allay fears,” he added.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said no amount of assurances from law enforcement agencies could guarantee the new law would not be abused to the detriment of human rights, civil liberties and fundamental freedoms.
“The repressive provisions in the law embolden law enforcers to perpetrate errant and arbitrary implementation against spirited ordinary citizens, progressive activists and political dissenters who have long been considered as enemies of the state," he said.
"The new anti-terrorism law must be cleansed of its constitutional infirmities notwithstanding the say-so of its implementors," he stressed.
"It is incumbent upon the Supreme Court to use the scalpel of judicial review to excise the numerous oppressive and unconstitutional provisions of the new law in its adjudication of relevant petitions," he added.
On Saturday, police arrested 11 people from leftist groups protesting the new law in Cabuyao City, Laguna. Among those arrested were members of groups Karapatan, Bayan, Gabriela, BM Youth, Liga ng Manggagawa, Starter Piston, Pamantik KMU and Kabataan. The demonstrators, including three minors, were detained at Cabuyao Municipal Police Station.