MANILA--House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said on Friday that activists would not be targeted by a stronger anti-terrorism bill swiftly passed by the House of Representatives early this week and is now awaiting President Rodrigo Duterte's signature.
Cayetano urged critics to carefully examine the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, which toughens the 13-year-old Human Security Act by expanding the powers of law enforcers to go after terrorists.
"I agree 100 percent... activism is not terrorism," he said during the final session before Congress went on break.
Cayetano, under whose watch the House opted not to touch and simply adopted the Senate's version of the bill, said dissenters and others who would protest against the government would not be considered as terrorists under the amended law.
The bill makes it clear that terrorism "shall not include advocacy, protest, dissent, stoppage of work, industrial or mass action, and other similar exercises of civil and political rights, which are not intended to cause death or serious physical harm to a person, to endanger a person's life, or to create a serious risk to public safety."
"But let me make another thing clear... terrorism is not activism," said Cayetano.
"In the same way that we should not persecute or go after activism in the guise that they are terrorist, activists, do not allow terrorists to hide within your ranks."
The proposed law also expanded the definition of "terrorism" and introduces a new crime of "inciting to commit terrorism," raising fears that it might be used to crack down on government critics.
It also empowers the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC), which is composed of Cabinet officials, to "designate" suspected terrorists, who could then be arrested and whose assets could be frozen.
House Deputy Speaker Mujiv Hataman warned that the process of designation by a group of appointed officials could be politicized.
"Paano kung dumating ang panahon, hindi ko sinasabing ngayon… in the future, bagong administrasyon, biglang may kalaban sa pulitika… biglang nagalit sa isa? At sino magde-determine ngayon at i-tag sila kung terorista o hindi ay ATC," he told ANC's Matters of Fact.
(What if a new administration uses it against its political enemies? It will be the ATC that will determine if they will be tagged as terrorists.)
The bill allows detention without warrant for up to 14 days, which can be extended for another 10 days.
A court-issued preliminary order of proscription can also keep a suspected terrorist detained while hearings are conducted for up to 6 months to determine if the order would be lifted or made permanent.
The proposed law removes the P500,000 fine on government, equivalent to each day that a suspected terrorist was kept in jail but was eventually acquitted.