MANILA - Fear that an anti-terror bill pushed by President Rodrigo Duterte might spawn rights abuses is "not a valid reason" to scrap the measure, Leyte Rep. Lucy Torres-Gomez said Wednesday.
The measure, which is up for Duterte's signature, will let the government wiretap suspects, arrest them without warrant and hold them without charge for at least 2 weeks, among other provisions.
"The fear that a bill can be abused, or that the law can be abused is not unfounded. We have seen how laws have been abused in the years not just under the reign of President Duterte but even the reigns of other presidents," Torres-Gomez told ANC.
"But fear of abuse is not a valid reason to reject a bill outright. It is not a valid reason to reject needed legislation like the anti-terrorism bill because theoretically speaking, all laws can be abused, even social welfare laws that are very benign and charitable can be abused," she added.
The power to issue warrant of arrest will "remain with our courts" and a planned anti-terrorism council will have "no quasi-judicial powers", said the lawmaker.
WHICH IS THE WORSE FEAR?
The Human Security Act of 2007 was "a dead letter law", said Torres-Gomez.
"It was all innocent until proven guilty. By that time, it does not apply to a crime like terrorism because if we use that argument, wala na, na-detonate na kung bomb (it will already be detonated, if it's a bomb," she said.
An anti-terrorism law "should be not just reactive, but also preventive," said the Leyte representative.
"Terrorism is the highest crime against humanity. I don't think it is right to not pursue a tip or go after a suspect... We have to weigh which risk weighs heavier on people: the risk of wrongful arrest or the risk of a terror act actually happening," she said.
"If wrongful arrest does happen, that person has legal recourse. But when a terror attack has been carried out, the damage is irreversible."
Duterte is "inclined" to approve the measure and believes the 14-day detention of terror suspects is constitutional, said his spokesman Harry Roque.
Opponents of the bill fear it could be used to suppress free speech and harass those who challenge Duterte, who commands a legislative majority and influence within the judiciary and state institutions.
Opposition lawmaker Edcel Lagman criticized Duterte for prioritizing the passage of a bill he described as "draconian" over an economic stimulus package pending congressional approval, which aims to help mitigate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Duterte was "tightening the noose on suspected terrorists at the expense of the protection of human rights and civil liberties," said Lagman who is also a human rights lawyer.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque dismissed the criticism and said elements of the bill were patterned on those used in countries that had dealt effectively with extremism.
He said the 5-month takeover in 2017 of the southern city of Marawi by militants loyal to Islamic State showed the extent of extremist influence in the country.
With a report from Reuters