New anti-terrorism measure has enough safeguards against abuse: Lacson

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 27 2020 07:13 PM

MANILA - A new anti-terror bill which allows the warrantless arrest and 2-week detention of suspected terrorists has enough safeguards against abuse, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said Thursday, a day after 2 senators raised concerns about the bill that the Senate has just approved on final reading.

Opposition Senators Francis Pangilinan and Risa Hontiveros earlier said the measure may be used to silence administration critics.

"Lahat naman may legal procedures na susundin... Naroon lahat ng safeguards," Lacson said in a media briefing.

(Everything has legal procedure to be followed... It has all the safeguards.)

Under the bill, suspected terrorists may only be arrested when the crime "has just been committed, about to be committed or [is] being committed," the senator said.

Authorities who will conduct warrantless arrests need to notify the Court of Appeals, and inform the Commission on Human Rights and a judge who is "nearest the place of arrest" before conducting the apprehension, he said.

Suspects' families will be given visitation rights, while visits of legal counsels will be unlimited, Lacson said.

Lacson said the Senate's approved version of the Anti-Terrorism Act increased the period of detention by nearly 10 fold to 14 days from 36 hours to "be at par with other countries."

Singapore's detention period is at 732 days and allows indefinite extensions, Lacson noted.

"Naiwanan tayo ng ibang countries, European, western countries at saka ating neighboring countries dito," he said.

(We've been left behind by other countries, European, western countries and our neighboring countries.)

"Ang iniiwasan natin is to make the Philippines a safe haven for terrorists kasi napakagaan ng ating batas, napakahina," he said.

(What we're trying to prevent is to make the Philippines a safe haven for terrorists because our law is very light, very weak.)

The Philippines has seen several terror attacks perpetrated by groups linked to the Islamic State, an international terrorist network. Several bomb attacks have claimed dozens of lives while in 2017, a 5-month siege led by Islamic State-linked local terror group Maute destroyed much of the southern city of Marawi. 

 REMOVAL OF P500,000 FINE FOR WRONGFUL DETENTION

Lacson also defended the removal of a P500,000 fine under the bill for each day a person is wrongfully detained. 

Law enforcers have been filing charges less serious than terrorism - like murder and multiple murder - due to fears of being fined by courts, Lacson, a former national police chief, said. 

"Even the Armed Forces of the Philippines are hesitant to file charges using the Human Security Act kasi takot sila pagka na-dismiss ang kaso pamultahin sila ng (because they are afraid if the case is dismissed and they are fined) P500,000 per day of detention," he said.

"Even in the Marawi siege, hindi sila nag-file ng (they did not file) cases in violation of the Human Security Act... Kaya naging virtual dead letter law ang RA 9732. Hindi mai-apply (So the law became a virtual dead letter law, it cannot be applied)," he said.

With the removal of the fine, individuals who are wrongfully detained are no longer entitled to receive automatic compensation.

Still, Lacson said, victims of wrongful detention can still sue officials for damages.

"That is well within their rights to seek compensation or even exact criminal liabilities from those who wrongfully arrested and detained them," he said.

PENALTIES VS ABUSE

While several provisions of the new Anti-Terrorism Act were relaxed in favor of law enforcers, the measure also imposes stiffer penalties against abusive authorities.

Under the approved Senate bill, police or military officials found guilty of abusing the policy - such as detaining persons without informing a judge - can be imprisoned for up to 10 years.

"I think that should be enough. Other pertinent laws kung pinatay mo ang suspect, murder ang kaso. Kung torture mo, magva-violate ka ng anti-torture law. So naroon pa rin yan," he said.

(I think that should be enough. There are other pertinent laws, if you kill a suspect, the case is murder. If you torture, you violate the anti-torture law. So that's still there.)

The House of Representatives has yet to pass a counterpart measure, but Lacson said "some groups" are already working on a "full court press."

"Some groups are working with the HOR to fast-track their passage, ang version nila, para madala kaagad ito (their version, so this could be elevated)," he said.