MANILA - The House of Representatives late Tuesday approved on 2nd reading House Bill 6875 which proposes amendments to the country's existing anti-terrorism law.
The approval came in an ayes and nays vote wherein the affirmative votes outyelled the negative votes.
The bill, which amends the Human Security Act of 2007, was earlier certified urgent by President Rodrigo Duterte, paving the way for the House to approve the bill on 3rd and final reading soon after.
Under the proposed measure, authorities are allowed to place "suspected" individuals and organizations under surveillance and compel telecommunication companies to divulge calls and messages.
The bill also allows regional trial courts to label an organization as a terrorist group and removes the compensation guaranteed for wrongfully detained individuals.
Suspected terrorists may also be detained up to 14 days without a warrant.
House Committee on Public Order and Safety chairperson and Masbate Rep. Narciso Bravo, who sponsored the bill during the plenary session Tuesday, he recounted the recent ambushes by suspected terrorist groups on soldiers delivering relief goods.
Bravo said the bill aims to shield Filipinos from terrorist attacks and prevent the country from becoming a haven of extremist groups.
The bill includes provisions that would empower enforcers to apprehend terrorists before they can cause grave harm to the public, he added.
“Maliwanag naman po na sumusunod ang batas na ito sa universal requirements na UN Security Council. Ang hinahabol lang po ng ating batas ay kung yung teroristang grupo ay may malakas na ebidensya na sila nga ay terorista at they are about to commit an act of terrorism," Bravo said.
“Wala po tayong intensyong gamitin ito para sa mga inosenteng nage-exercise lamang ng kanilang civil and political rights.”
For years, the Human Security Act has been criticized because of provisions penalizing law enforcers with the payment of P500,000 in damages per day for detention of any person acquitted of terrorism charges.
Muntinlupa Rep. Ruffy Biazon, who co-sponsored the bill, said this is why it has to be amended.
“Parang natali ang kamay ng law enforcement and at the same time hindi tayo makapagsampa ng kaso gamit ito sa higpit ng batas. Kaya kinailangan yung adjustment para may angkop na batas na magagamit," Biazon said.
Deputy Speaker Mujiv Hataman, however, said it's worrying that the proposed measure may be vulnerable to the abuse of law enforcers, and urged that the bill’s penalty provisions should be revisited, in consideration of those who will be wrongfully arrested.
Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas expressed fears that it may be used against those who criticize government. Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate added the bill has very broad and vague definitions for terrorism, giving law enforcers a lot of discretion on who may be considered a terrorist.
Last Friday, the House committees on national defense and security and public order and safety approved the substitute bills.
The bills are patterned after the Senate version approved last February in order to "speed up" the deliberation.
Netizens have 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.