MANILA - Sen. Ping Lacson said Wednesday the proposed anti-terror law is "one of the kindest in the world," allaying fears it would infringe on civil and political rights.
“We are very kind. Ours is one of the kindest,” he said in a webinar organized by the Management Association of the Philippines.
The lawmaker, who sponsored the proposed measure in the Senate, said the bill contains safeguards against abuse.
“Section 29 ensures safeguards to avoid abuses by requiring written notification to be immediately given to the judge of the court nearest to the place of arrest with a copy furnished to the Anti-Terrorism Council,” he said.
“We have proposed that the same notice be provided to the Commission on Human Rights. A requirement which is not present under the Human Security Act of 2007,” he added.
Lacson said the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) would issue an authority to properly trained individuals to conduct an investigation because any policeman on his own discretion may interpret a person to be committing acts of terrorism.
Uniformed personnel making wrongful arrests can face imprisonment of up to 10 years and absolute perpetual disqualification from public office, he said.
IMMEDIATE SUPERIOR ANSWERABLE
“If the arresting officer cannot be found, the immediate superior will be answerable,” Lacson added.
The senator stressed that a law enforcer could not arrest or detain a person on mere suspicion alone.
However, he said the bill also aimed to thwart "the planning phase of the crime."
“With this, the proposed law includes penalizing inchoate offenses or preparatory acts that are deemed criminal even without the actual harm being done, provided that the harm that would have occurred is one the law tries to prevent such as terrorism,” he said.
“Preparatory acts, as a rule, is not punishable unless these acts are punishable in themselves as independent crimes,” he added.
Holding a suspect for 14 days is to be treated as a policy decision of Congress after considering the unique nature and effects of terrorism, Lacson said.
The allowable period of detention is determined by Article 125 of the Revised Penal Code, a general law that can be amended by Congress, he added.
Lacson said the Anti-Terrorism Council’s written authority under Section 29 of the bill is not an authority to order an arrest.
“It is inconsistent and totally absurd to think that the anti-terrorism council will issue a written authorization to an arresting officer before effecting the warrantless arrest,” Lacson said.
The written authorization, he said, is to be issued only to duly designated deputies such as law enforcement agents and military personnel especially tasked and trained to handle the custodial investigation involving terrorism.
“Personnel shall need a written authority to be deputized by the anti-terrorism council to perform such tasks,” Lacson said.
It is only after a valid warrantless arrest that the law enforcement agent or military personnel, who is authorized by the ATC, can start a custodial investigation.
“The ATC cannot order a law enforcement agent or military personnel to conduct electronic surveillance of suspected terrorist groups or individuals,” Lacson said.
He said there was also no truth to concerns that the ATC shall be the sole group who will determine terrorists based on their assessment of suspicious activities like an expression of dissent against the government.
Only the Abu Sayyaf has been labeled as a terrorist but several groups are being studied, he said.
Asked about why the bill is being given priority during the COVID-19 pandemic, Lacson said terrorism knows no borders and the hearing of the bill dates back to 2018.
Despite public scrutiny, the senator said he wouldn't back down.
"Somehow, I have this habit of standing my ground when I am backed with hard facts when arguing my case. I don’t stand back when I know my ground," he said.
Critics have raised concerns on the proposed law due to its supposed vague and dangerous provisions such as prolonged detention without charges and the designation of any person or group as terrorists.
If the bill becomes law, the government will be allowed to wiretap suspects, arrest them without a warrant, and hold them without charge for at least 14 days, among other provisions.
The proposed legislation awaits President Rodrigo Duterte's signature after Congress transmitted its copy to Malacañang on June 9.
Ping Lacson anti-terror bill, Philippines anti-terror bill, Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020