SIX Cebu legislators voted to pass House Bill (HB) 6875, or the “Anti-Terrorism Bill,” despite its controversial provisions.
They are Reps. Raul del Mar (Cebu City, north district), Pablo John Garcia (third district), Janice Salimbangon (fourth district), Emmarie Ouano-Dizon (sixth district), Peter John Calderon (seventh district) and Paz Radaza (Lapu-Lapu City lone district). Rep. Rodrigo Abellanosa (Cebu City, south district) abstained, while Reps. Eduardo Gullas (first district), Wilfredo Caminero (second district) and Vincent Franco “Duke” Frasco (fifth district) have yet to issue statements regarding their vote.
Del Mar, in a statement sent to SunStar Cebu, said he voted for the bill because he trusted the assurance that the law would not be used to suppress legitimate acts of dissent and brand these as acts of terrorism.
He is confident that the present and future Congress will exercise its inherent power of oversight if the law is used to oppress the Filipino people.
However, he also enumerated the bill’s provisions that worried him:
• Warrantless arrests and longer detention without charges;
• No requirement for a suspect to be presented to a judge for assessment whether the arrested person was tortured;
• Many of the crimes are punishable with life imprisonment, thus non-bailable;
• It expands the list of persons who may be subject to surveillance or wiretapping and imposes restrictions on travel of terrorism suspects; and
• Addition of new crimes, which includes inciting to commit terrorism, which may be committed through speeches, proclamations, writings, emblems, banners, risking possible collision with free speech and free press.
“I believe that the flaws of the Human Security Act must be corrected now when the threat of terrorism is not yet a clear and present danger. Pray, when must the weapons in preserving democracy and our way of life be ready? Surely not after the enemy will have breached our gates and assaulted us,” he said. “Yet the same love for democracy and way of life is the reason of my fear about the bill.”
Del Mar said he hopes the law enforcement group, the Cabinet and security officials who will sit in the Anti-Terrorism Council will “use the power entrusted them solely for the purpose of protecting the country and its people against the threat and actual assault of terrorism.”
Penalties for abuse
As for Garcia, he voted for HB 6875 because a new anti-terrorism law was necessary for “changing times.”
“Why now? Because we cannot wait for disaster to strike before we pass a law to sufficiently arm our law enforcement officials against the ever-present threat,” he said in a radio dyLA report. Although some have raised concerns that the law could be abused, Garcia urged critics to read the bill.
“I would say half of the significant provisions of the bill relate to penalties against those who would misuse or abuse the law and those who violate the rights of suspects. It even mandates the Commission on Human Rights to give the highest priority to investigating and prosecuting abuse of the law and violation of the rights of suspects,” he added.
Salimbangon, for her part, said: “I voted yes because I am totally against terrorism. Our country cannot afford chaos and must be at all times peaceful. There is no place for terrorists in a democratic country like ours. Nowhere in this world can progress be attained in an atmosphere of violence.”
Calderon shared her sentiments, saying he voted for the bill to protect the country and the people from terrorism and terrorists.
“I am aware that there are questions and fears that have come out in connection with the bill, but if the bill is read in its entirety, there are safeguards against possible abuse of the law,” he said.
In a text message to SunStar Cebu, Radaza said she voted yes because there was a need for “strong measures and equally strong check and control mechanisms” against terrorism, especially during a crisis when the country is most vulnerable.
Meanwhile, Abellanosa said he abstained because he is worried about safeguarding the basic rights of citizens.
“My policy as district representative is to always listen to my constituents while maintaining independence from House blocs. For me, HB 6875 has been unreasonably rushed towards adjournment sine die of Congress regular session and amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, leaving very insufficient time for deliberations and consultations on very critical issues. Everybody is caught flat-footed. Even media, including social media, were caught unaware. While there is an urgent need to have a stronger Anti-Terrorism Bill, it is also of utmost concern to safeguard the basic rights of citizens,” Abellanosa said in a radio dyLA report.
The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) in Cebu City is withholding comment until the bill becomes law. At that time, it may assist those who wish to question it before the Supreme Court.
Regal Oliva, IBP-Cebu City Chapter president, pointed out that the passing of the law is different from its implementation.
“We will not delve into political games, much so in the passing of a bill, as it is a political exercise. You may ask for our personal opinions as lawyers, but as the official organization of lawyers, we choose to keep mum on the issue until the bill will take effect into law,” Oliva said.
Although the group’s members acknowledged that some provisions of the bill raised some red flags, Oliva said the IBP “must not thresh its energies to political endeavors.”
Democrito Barcenas, veteran Cebuano human rights lawyer, likened the bill to “a dagger pointed at the very heart of human liberty.”
He said he is greatly alarmed by the “unusual speed and indecent haste” in which the Anti-Terrorism Bill was passed in the House.
“There is no need to have a sudden passage of this bill because our primary concern now is the coronavirus problem,” he said.
“Now, according to (Presidential) Spokesman Harry Roque, (as) he tries to appease us by saying that we have the Constitution and the Bill of Rights... I cannot trust this statement because we have the Constitution giving us due process, but people, (even) without search warrant or warrant of arrest, are being killed sometimes inside their houses on suspicion that they are drug couriers or users... Right now, the Constitution is being violated left and right,” Barcenas said.
Warrantless arrest House Bill 6875, which will repeal the Human Security Act of 2007, was copied from Senate Bill 1038, which the Senate passed on third and final reading in February 2020.
If enacted into law, this will allow the arrest of persons suspected of being terrorists without a warrant. They may be detained for 14 days with an allowable 10day extension or up to a total of 24 days without charges.
Authorities may also conduct 60-day surveillance on suspected terrorists, with an allowable 30-day extension.
Aside from allowing warrantless arrests and detention of up to 24 days without charges, the bill removed the provision on payment of P500,000 in damages per day of detention of any person acquitted of terrorism charges.
The Movement against Tyranny-Cebu, an alliance of the academic and legal community, church people, professionals, democracy defenders, independent individuals, mass organizations and civil society organizations, called on Cebuano lawmakers to withdraw their support for the bill.
“Making the Anti-Terrorism Bill urgent over the health and economic measures is a clear manifestation of weaponizing the law against legal dissent in times of crises brought by the demise of neo-liberal capitalism worsened by the Covid-19 (coronavirus disease) pandemic,” it said in a statement. / JJL, WBS, KFD, FVQ, JKV, ANV