MANILA - Human rights advocates fear a fresh crackdown on civil liberties and free speech under a bill that seeks to amend the country’s 11-year-old anti-terrorism law.
Advocates took turns pointing out which provisions in the proposed new law impose draconian powers during a technical working group meeting of the House Committees on Public Order and National Defense and Security on an unnumbered bill that consolidates and substitutes HB’s 7141 and 5507.
Neri Colmenares, chairman of the group Bayan Muna, pointed out that the definition of terrorism under the proposed bill makes it too vague and encompassing, making everyone from President Rodrigo Duterte to any other citizen liable for terrorism.
“Binago niya yung old definition (ng terrorism) if I understand the intention and the wordings of the author. So it would be good if there’s an explanation later. May departure siya doon sa dati: any person who commits any of the acts punishable under the following provision under Revised Penal Code, nag-enumerate pag ginawa mo acts na ito--piracy, arson--definition 'yan ng terrorism,” he said.
“Ito ang dangerous for civil libertarians and human rights advocates: ibig sabihin di lang yung acts na nadefine sa RPC or any other act, actually kahit di siya nag-enumerate ng RPC. This one encompasses all crimes under RPC, other special laws, everything is there."
“It could encompass anybody, everybody from President Duterte down to the lowest from human rights advocates to normal opposition to...dissenters, activists. Sabi niya when the effect of any of the acts by their nature or context is to intimidate the population, so the moment 'yung act mo kahit ano pang intention kasi effect eh, effect niyan ay intimidate the implementation, may problema ka na.”
He said Duterte threatening to kill drug addicts might fall under acts proscribed under relevant human rights treaties.
Colmenares said mere voicing of dissent against government, such as calling for the suspension of the first package of the tax reform law, could be considered illegal.
“Mas malala ito sa anti-terrorism law na previous,” he said.
“Terrorist act ang EDSA 1 because EDSA interfered or disrupted transport public service. In fact it disrupted Merto Manila for 34 days nang pinaralyze ang EDSA,” he said, adding that the proposal also covers jeepney strikes.
30-DAY DETENTION, WITHOUT CHARGES
Colmenares also assailed the provision allowing 30-day detention of terrorism suspects without a case being filed.
“If the person is so grabe talaga, yung alam sa taong ito huhulihin mo siya talaga, bakit di makaka-file ng kaso in 30 days? Bulong-bulong pala alam mo, wag mo naman hulihin.”
Colmenares also feared the proposed power for the Department of Justice to open up communication records of suspected terrorists.
“Dangerous ito sa lahat, including opposition, including those who dissent. Who defines if the danger is imminent? Di mo ma-check kung gumagawa lang sila ng imminent danger," he said.
There are also provisions restricting travel, which will be imposed on the accused even if he is on bail unless he is finally acquitted.
Jerome Succor Aba, chairman of Suara Bangsamoro, urged policy-makers to look into the roots of terrorism and that the proposed law should differentiate terrorist groups and legitimate organizations.
“Makakabahala po yung common crimes...na ginagawa na ngayong acts of terrorism. Sa community po namin sa Mindanao sa ngayong martial law, ilan na ang trumped up charges? Mga common crimes po yun," he said.
“'Yung terrorist organziation na sinasabi, masyado pong dangerous. Dapat po merong pag-differentiate sa mga terrorist organziations such as Abu Sayyaf Group, meron namang legitimate organizations,” he added.
Mervin Toquero of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines asked if the proposed bill compromises the safeguards assured by the bill of rights in the Constitution and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights.
He singled out the provision where "probable cause refers to a reasonable ground of suspicion, supported by circumstances sufficiently strong in themselves as to warrant a reasonable man in believing that the individual organization association or group of persons were or continuously engaged in terrorism or have performed acts committed by a terrorist or terrorist organization as defined.”
"This section when carried out will have an adverse effect on peoples freedom of association and expression it also basically presumes guilt unless proven innocent," he said.
Toquero added the bill also allows the military to wield the act.
“All phrases stating police or law enforcement official were replaced by law enforcement or military personnel, further broadening those who can wield the act," he said.
Raymond Villanueva of the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines fears the bill if it becomes law may be used against journalists.
“If implemented this will make the practice of journalism in this country impossible and extremely dangerous," he said.
The definitions in Section 5 of the proposal, such as inciting to terrorism, glorification of terrorism, and membership in terrorist organization, remain vague.
“We ask who determines incitement? Would news articles explaining the roots of terrorism or rebellion, which term the government often interchange freely, qualify as incitement? Past government certainly viewed it this way,” he said.
“Who determines glorification? Will this provision be abused by state forces to charge and arrest members of the press who would write something about so called terrorism, misconstruing such as glorification?”
"The government particularly state security forces have time and again tagged media organizations including the NUJP as fronts or even enemies of the state," he added.
Villanueva also points out that the inclusion of the cybercrime law under the coverage of the proposed new anti terrorism law puts all journalists at the mercy of the government.
“Almost all media outfits have online platforms. Kaming mga mamahayag ang tatamaan nito ng husto. We feel critical reports and opinion may already be called terrorist acts,” he said.
Tina Palabay, Secretary General of KARAPATAN, raises the following concerns on and thereby opposes the following specific provisions of the draft substitute bill:
- the removal of all provisions and language in Section 2 that pertains to the duty of the state under international law to protect people from terrorist acts in a manner that is consistent to and that respects and promotes human rights;
- disproportionate, cruel and unjust punishment of life imprisonment and prison terms for individuals alleged to have committed terrorist crimes states in the vague and overly broad provisions of sections 4, 5, A,B,C,D,E,F,G, 6, 7;
- gross implications on the right to due process and the right to privacy on provisions regarding surveillance of suspected terrorists in section 8, 9,10, 11, 12, 13, 14;
- gross violations on the right against illegal and arbitrary detention, torture and to cruel and degrading treatment in proposed section 18 and 19 and the removing of provisions in section 20, 21, 22, 23, 24 and 25 and on the rights of detained persons and against torture;
- gross violations on the right to freedom of movement and right to due process in provisions of proposed section 19 and 20 on suspension/cancellation of passports, issuance of hold departure order and on limiting the right to travel of individuals, even just on mere suspicion of terrorism; and
- removal of provisions providing penalties and lowering of penalties for state authorities who violate basic civil and political rights of persons.
As of writing, the committee is still deliberating the provisions of the bill which consolidates proposals from Representatives Amado Espino, Gary Alejano and Leopoldo Bataoil.