Trying to grasp the Anti-Terrorism Bill

"Undoubtedly, there is a need for a new Anti-Terrorism Law, but is it complete and accurate enough to allay the fears of those who oppose it?"


(Part 1)

Much has been spoken and written about the Anti-Terrorism Bill but one thing is certain—there are those who disapprove of its passage into law. The free exchange of views and ideas at a time when the bill is yet to be signed by the President into law is welcome since this will avert the filing of numerous petitions in court questioning its constitutionality, legality and validity.

It is always best to read the law in its original text to fully understand the policies it wants to promote and the legal meaning of the provisions. Some will say that these are matters only for lawyers and law students to understand since they are more equipped to comprehend legal terms and phraseologies. However, the law applies to all regardless of their standing in life, educational attainment, political or religious belief; whether he knows the law’s existence or not is no reason for the law not to be applicable to him.

With this in mind, it is therefore imperative for us to read and understand House Bill No. 6875 which adopted Senate Bill No. 1083 otherwise known as the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020. Undoubtedly, there is a need for a new Anti-Terrorism Law, but is it complete and accurate enough to allay the fears of those who oppose it?

The definition of “Designated Person” includes individuals, persons, organizations, or associations designated as a terrorist, terrorist organization or group, by the United Nations Security Council, or another jurisdiction, supranational or not. The same definition also includes those which the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) may designate upon a finding of probable cause as individuals, persons, organizations, or associations which commit, attempt to commit, or conspire in the commission of the acts of terrorism (Sections 3(b) and Sections 25, paragraph 3, Anti-Terrorism Bill).

To some, this gives the ATC discretion to identify and include as “Designated Persons” individuals or organizations not expressly enumerated in the proposed bill without the requirement of proscription (Section 26, Anti-Terrorism Bill). The assets of the “designated persons” shall be subject to the authority of the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC), and can be frozen pursuant to Section 11, R.A. 10168 (Section 25, Anti-Terrorism Bill). The ATC is composed of the Executive Secretary, National Security Adviser, and various cabinet secretaries including the Executive Director of the AMLC all of whom are presidential appointees.

A careful reading of the definition of a “Terrorist Individual” will reveal that it may be too broad, since it refers to any natural person who commits any of the acts defined and penalized under Sections 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10,11 and 12 of the Act (Section 3 (l), Anti-Terrorism Bill). However, Section 4 is not clear on its description of acts of terrorism committed by a person within or outside of the Philippines. It makes a general description of the acts of terrorism which include activities that result in death, bodily harm, extensive damage or destruction to government facility or critical infrastructure; developing, possessing, transporting, supplying, and releasing biological, nuclear, radiological or chemical weapons; and causing fire.

The only phrase that appears to qualify these acts as acts of terrorism is the proviso that states that these activities be done “to intimidate the general public or create an atmosphere or spread a message of fear, to provoke or influence by intimidation of the government or any of its international organization, or seriously destabilize or destroy the fundamental political, economic, or social structures of the country, or create a public emergency or seriously undermine public safety.” However, similar words may appear as modes of commission of other crimes like sedition and rebellion. Sedition is committed by persons who rise publicly and tumultuously in order to attain, by force or intimidation, acts of hate or revenge upon the person or property of a public officer, private person, or social class; and to despoil (or pillage), for any political or social end, the municipality or province or National Government (Article 139 of the Revised Penal Code). On the other hand, rebellion is committed by rising publicly and taking arms against the government for the purpose of removing allegiance to the government (Article 134 of the Revised Penal Code). Are these not destabilizing or destroying our political and social structures?

However, the draft bill is quick to exclude advocacy, protest, dissent, stoppage of work, industrial or mass action, and other similar exercises of civil and political rights, which are not intended to cause death or serious physical harm to a person, to endanger a person’s life, or to create a serious risk to public safety. In the event that mass action or protest results in death, physical harm or damage to properties that puts the public safety at risk, can the ATC determine that the protesters are committing acts of terrorism?

Since the definition of terrorism is expansive, it likewise affects the other modes of its commission like threat to commit terrorism, conspiracy to commit terrorism, proposal to commit terrorism, and inciting to commit terrorism, among others.

As for surveillance of suspects and interception of communications, the provision has the following safety nets: (a) [surveillance and interception] may be conducted only on a suspected terrorist upon the order of the Court of Appeals; (b) the application to and the order of the Court of Appeals shall be served to the National Telecommunications Commission; (c) the communications obtained shall be deposited to the Court of Appeals in a sealed envelope and deemed and declared classified information; and (d) it may only be opened, replayed and disclosed upon application of the Department of Justice stating the purposes and with notice to the party concerned (Sections 16, 17, 20 and 22, Anti-Terrorism Bill).

The next issue will discuss proscription of terrorist organizations, associations, or group of persons; detention without judicial warrant; rights of persons under custodial investigation; precautionary hold departure order; authority to freeze; and granting of monetary rewards to informers.

Topics: Tranquil G.S. Salvador III , Anti-Terrorism Bill , Bill No. 6875 , Senate Bill No. 1083 , Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.
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