MANILA (UPDATE) - President Rodrigo Duterte certified on Monday a bill that proposes amendments to the country's existing anti-terrorism law.
Duterte, in a letter to House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano on Monday, certified House Bill No. 6875 which amends the Human Security Act of 2007, as urgent.
The President said the call for a speedy passage aims to "address the urgent need to strengthen the law on anti-terrorism in order to inadequately and effectively contain the menace of terrorist acts for the preservation of national security and the promotion of general welfare."
Certifying the bill as urgent would allow the House to expedite its passage. The Senate in February passed a similar version of the bill.
Earlier in the day, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana urged Congress to pass the bill before it takes a recess this week.
"It is certified urgent bill para matapos ito bago mag-recess ang Congress before June 5 (so it could be passed before Congress goes on recess before June 5)," he said in a virtual press briefing.
WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE?
Netizens over the weekend criticized the proposed legislation on concerns that it might violate basic rights. Last Friday, the hashtag #JunkTerrorBill was also the Philippines' top trending topic on microblogging site Twitter.
The country's existing anti-terrorism law or the Human Security Act of 2007 had been criticized for being useless because of provisions penalizing law enforcers with the payment of P500,000 in damages per day of detention of any person acquitted of terrorism charges.
The proposed measure removes the said provision but sets the number of days a suspect can be detained without a warrant of arrest to 14 days, which can be extended by another 10 days.
To allay concerns on possible abuse of power, the bill states that the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) should be notified in case of detention of a suspected terrorist.
The CHR, in turn, is tasked to give the highest priority to the investigation and prosecution of violations of civil and political rights of individuals.
It will also have the concurrent jurisdiction to prosecute public officials, law enforcers, and other persons who may have violated the civil and political rights of suspects and detained persons.
A new provision, designating certain Regional Trial Courts as Anti-Terror Courts, was also introduced to ensure the speedy disposition of cases. The use of videoconferencing for the accused and witnesses to remotely appear and testify will be allowed under the measure.
If the bill becomes law, any person who shall be accused of threatening to commit terrorism shall suffer the penalty of 12 years in prison.
The same prison term will be imposed on those who will propose any terror acts or incite others to commit terrorism, those who will join any terrorist organization, and those found liable as an accessory in the commission of terrorism.
Its counterpart measure in the Senate (Senate Bill 1083) has provisions imposing life imprisonment without parole on those who will propose, incite, conspire, and participate in the planning, training, preparation and facilitation of a terrorist act, as well as those who will support terrorists or recruit people to terror groups.
The amendments also provide for the police or the military to conduct 60-day surveillance on suspected terrorists, which may be extended to 30 more days, provided that they secure judicial authorization from the Court of Appeals.
Any law enforcement or military personnel found to have violated the rights of the accused persons shall be penalized with imprisonment of 10 years.