Australia, US called for tougher measures vs terrorists in PH, says Lacson
MANILA--Sen. Panfilo "Ping" Lacson on Thursday said disinformation surrounding the controversial anti-terror bill is spreading fear on social media, scaring the public against a legislation intended to amend a "dead letter law."
Criticism against House Bill No. 6875, or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, is harming the legislation, which intends to amend the country's current but "ineffectual" Human Security Act of 2007, Lacson told ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo.
He said that progressive groups, along with the Commission of Human Rights and other academic and legal experts, were invited by lawmakers to work on the bill but did not show up.
"Imbita kami nang imbita sa kanila, iniindiyan naman kami, dinedma ang aming invitation. So ngayon na ipinasa na sa House, saka naman sila ingay nang ingay at katakot-takot na disinformation," he said.
(We have been inviting them, but they were declining our invitation. Now that it has been passed in the House, they are making noise and spreading disinformation.)
The senator said that ever since the Human Security Act was implemented, only one out of hundreds of suspects has been convicted of terrorism because of the law's provision fining law enforcers P500,000 in damages per day for detention of any person acquitted of terrorism charges.
"Noong 2018 nangyari 'yung conviction. So after 11 years ng pagpasa nito (Human Security Act), iisa pa lang 'yung conviction. At iisa pa lamang ang terrorist organization na napo-proscribe, 'yung Abu Sayyaf Group. Ito'y nangyari naman nu'ng 2015," said Lacson, chairman of the Senate Committee on National Defense.
(The conviction was in 2018. So after 11 years of implementation, we've only had one conviction. And only one terrorist organization has been proscribed, the Abu Sayyaf Group. This was in 2015.)
He said that based on the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology's record, "high-risk" inmates affiliated with terrorist groups are not detained for violations of the Human Security Act but on ordinary charges, such as kidnapping and murder.
Lacson noted that 66 Abu Sayyaf members detained by security forces were not charged for violating the country's anti-terrorism law but for kidnapping.
"Ang epekto kasi, kapag sila'y nakulong sa pangkaraniwang crime tulad ng murder [at] kidnapping, at hindi sa terrorism o violation ng anti-terror law, nawawala 'yung pagkakataon ng pamahalaan na magsagawa ng programa ng de-radicalization," he said.
(What happens is, if terrorists are imprisoned for murder or kidnapping and not for breaking the anti-terror law, the government can't make them go through the de-radicalization program.)
Lacson added that due to the absence of a counterterrorism measure, terror inmates instead are radicalizing other detainees.
Because of a lack of convictions, the senator said that the officials from Australia, the United States and even the United Nations Security Council called for tough measures against terrorists in the Philippines.
"Ito'y naging challenge sa'kin bilang head ng defense and security committee ng Senado," said Lacson, who had sponsored the Senate's approved version of the Anti-Terrorism Act.
(This was a challenge for me as head of the defense and security committee of the Senate.)
Lawyers and human rights activists in the country have protested against the bill, which was earlier certified "urgent" by President Rodrigo Duterte, alleging that it could be used to suppress free speech and harass those who go against the administration.
Opposition lawmaker Edcel Lagman had criticized Duterte for prioritizing the passage of the bill he described as "draconian" over an economic stimulus package pending congressional approval, which aims to help mitigate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate added that the measure is unconstitutional because it violates the Bill of Rights, and it can be weaponized against members of the opposition since the definition of terrorism in the measure is vague and broad.
But Lacson said the Senate's anti-terror bill, which House Bill 6875 is based on, clearly states that terrorism acts "does not include advocacy, protest, dissent, and industrial mass action."
"[Kapag] nag-express sila ng dissent, hindi sila mata-tag na terrorist. Ito'y ginagamit na weapon ng mga progresibong bloke ngayon para takutin ang ating mga mamamayan, 'Wag kayo magsasalita laban sa gobyerno at magiging terorista kayo.' Maling-mali po 'yun," he said.
(No one who expresses dissent will be tagged a terrorist. It's a weapon being used by the progressives to scare citizens. 'Don't speak against the government or you will be terrorists.' That's so wrong.)
The House on Wednesday approved the bill on third and final reading, with 173 House members voting yes, 31 voting no, and 29 abstentions. If it becomes a law, the government will be authorized to wiretap suspects, arrest them without warrant, and hold them without charge for 14 days, among other provisions.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque earlier said elements of the bill were patterned after countries that had dealt effectively with extremism.
He cited the 2017 siege of the southern city of Marawi by militants loyal to Islamic State, recounting the extent of extremist influence in the country.
"Let us not forget, the remains of Marawi is still there," Roque said.