Interior Secretary Eduardo Año has raised the flag for what he calls more peaceful nights for 110 million Filipinos following the signing into law of the anti-terror law, criticized by rights groups and militants, which takes effect on Saturday.
President Rodrigo Duterte signed Republic Act 11479, or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, on July 3 despite criticism and fears it could be used to silence government critics.
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The new law is facing at least eight legal challenges before the Supreme Court, which presides over questions of law, critics say could be abused to violate basic rights due to the broad definition of “terrorism.”
But Año told a forum ahead of Duterte’s penultimate State of the Nation Address this month, the people from Batanes to Tawi Tawi could now have more pleasant nights to sleep, assured that the younger generations were now safe from those who would want to grab their future from them.
A former military chief, Año added the new law would pave the way for a safer environment for children.
“Our children deserve to be raised in safe and secure communities, so let us give them an environment where they are free to dream and aim for a better future,” Año said.
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The stricter anti-terror law comes as the Philippines continued efforts to stop terror activities, including kidnappings and bombing operations of the Islamic State-linked Abu Sayyaf group, extremists that the United Nations tagged as terrorists in 2001.
In 2017, the Duterte administration had to quell a 5-month siege waged by the foreign-reinforced local terror group Maute, also linked to ISIS, in the lakeshore capital city of Marawi in Lanao del Sur.
In the Senate meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, who voted yes to the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, said he endeavored to ensure the measure would not be abused and there would be a balance between the needs to protect human rights and to strengthen the country’s anti-terrorism law.
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Drilon had said the Human Security Act of 2007 had been “very ineffective.”
“I introduced 14 amendments all designed to balance and protect the rights of the people and all I can say is I tried my best. I can face anyone and say I am not favoring anyone,” said Drilon, a former Justice Secretary.
“Whether or not it was sufficient or it was correct, that is a matter for the court to decide... I have done my best,” he added.
Senators Francis Pangilinan and Risa Hontiveros, Drilon’s colleagues in the minority bloc, voted against the law during the Senate deliberations in February.
As a lawmaker, Drilon said Congress could not force the public to let go of their trust issues with the government, as regards the implementation of the anti-terror law.
“That matter is left to the law enforcement agencies to earn. Respect is always earned, never imposed. Trust is always earned, never imposed,” he said. “It’s a question that you cannot place in the law.”
Among the controversial provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Act pointed out by critics were the extension of the 36-hour detention period for those arrested without warrant up to 24 days; the court’s issuance of a preliminary proscription order against suspected terrorists within 72 hours; and the allegedly “ambiguous” definition of what constitutes terrorism.
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