Protest all you want? Sotto says gov’t critics won’t be classified as terrorists

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 03 2020 11:50 PM

MANILA—Protesters, government critics and those who exercise their civil and political rights will not be branded as suspected terrorists under the proposed Anti-Terrorism bill, Senate President Vicente Sotto III assured on Wednesday, as criticism against the measure grew after several groups worried it could be used to target dissenters.

The measure uses the United Nations Security Council's definition of a terrorist, which is "globally acceptable," Sotto told reporters in a virtual press conference.

"In definition of terrorism, it does not include advocacy, protest na mahilig sila, dissent, stoppage of work, industrial or mass action, ibig sabihin pati 'yung mga strike, and other exercise of civil and political rights," Sotto said.

"Akala nila 'pag kontra sa gobyerno pwede nang i-classify na terrorist, hindi. Gusto mo murahin mo ang gobyerno, morning, noon and night, hindi ka pwede pa rin, you do not fall under the category definition."

(They think that if you are against the government, you can be classified as a terrorist, but that is not the case. You can curse at the government morning, noon and night, and you still do not fall under the category definition.)

Under the measure, persons commit terrorism when they:

  • Engage in acts intended to cause death or serious bodily injury to any person, or endangers a person’s life;
  • Engage in acts intended to cause extensive damage or destruction to a government or public facility, public place or private property;
  • Engage in acts intended to cause extensive interference with, damage or destruction to critical infastructure;
  • Develop, manufacture, possess, acquire, transport, supply or use weapons, explosives or of biological, nuclear, radiological or chemical weapons; and
  • Release dangerous substances, or causing fire, floods or explosions when the purpose of such act, by its nature and context, is to intimidate the general public.

Those who are conspiring to commit terrorism, proposing to commit terrorism, recruiting individuals into a terrorist organization, and joining a terrorist organization are also seen as terrorists under the measure.

"Kunyare rally, protesta, may nagbato ng molotov, terrorist ba 'yun? Hindi. Ano ikakaso sa kaniya? Eh di arson or any crime in the Revised Penal Code," Sotto said.

(For example, there is a rally or a protest and someone throws molotov, is that person a terrorist? No. What charges will be filed against him? It can be arson or any crime in the Revised Penal Code.)

The law also has safeguards to ensure that law enforcement agencies will not commit human rights violations, the Senate President, who was among the authors of the bill, said.

"Hinuli ka, napagbintangan kang member ng terrorist organization, automatic, nakalagay doon sa batas, ipapaalam sa hukuman. Ipapaalam kaagad sa korte na hawak ka nila, di ba? At bibigyan din ang Commission on Human Rights ng notice na hawak ka nila," he said.

(If you were arrested for being a suspected terrorist, the law automatically mandates that the court has to be notified of your arrest. Authorities will have to notify the court that they have arrested you, and the Commission on Human Rights will also be given a notice.)

Sotto said lawmakers had to strengthen policies against terrorism as the country's 12-year-old Human Security Act is deemed one of the "weakest" in Asia and in the world.

"Doon sa Human Security Act, there are only 4 instances where a terrorist can be prosecuted. There are 20 instances where the enforcer can be penalized for violation of the Human Security Act," he said.

"Talagang 'yung Human Security Act natin dati na pinasa masyadong pabor sa terorista."

(The Human Security Act before was favorable to terrorists.)

The Senate passed the Anti-Terrorism measure on third and final reading in February.

But criticism against the passage of the Anti-Terrorism bill grew as the House adopted the Senate's version and eventually passed it on final reading 2 days after President Rodrigo Duterte certified it as urgent.

Since the House adopted the Senate's version, a bicameral conference is no longer necessary. The bill is expected to be transmitted to Malacañang for the President's signature.