My Thoughts on the Anti-Terrorism Bill (HB6875 and SB1083)

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The nation is still reeling from the health, economic and other effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, and now we face another major issue that pricks a Filipino’s sentiments, not just because of its possible sweeping effect, but because of its ill-timing.

Congress (and the Senate as of this writing) has proposed legislation (a bill) called the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, that sought to repeal (or replace) the existing Human Security Act of 2007 (HSA).

I’ll do my best to simplify the legalese (ie verbal garbage lol) in both laws. 

The Anti-Terror Bill (ATB) shares the same policy and basis as the HSA, that in essence, it is a policy of the state to protect the life, liberty, and property of Filipinos from terrorism, and to make terrorism a crime against the Filipino people, humanity and the law of nations. No issue here. The policy is good and necessary.

Let’s go to the specifics. The ATB defines acts of terrorism more definitively than the HSA:

“Subject to extraterritorial application, terrorism is committed by any person who within or outside the Philippines, regardless of execution:

(a)  Engages in acts intended to cause death or serious bodily injury to any person, or endangers a person’s life;

(b)  Engages in acts intended to cause extensive damage or destruction to a government or public facility, public place, or private property;

(c)  Engages in acts intended to cause extensive interference with, damage or destruction to critical infrastructure;

(d)  Develops, manufactures, possesses, acquires, transports, supplies or uses weapons, explosives or of biological, nuclear, radiological or chemical weapons; and

(e)  Release of dangerous substances, or causing fire, floods or explosions

when the purpose of such act, by its nature and context is to intimidate the general public or a segment thereof, create an atmosphere or spread a message of fear, to provoke or influence by intimidation the government or any of its international organization, or seriously destabilize or destroy the fundamental political, economic, or social structures of the country, or create a public emergency or seriously undermine public safety, shall be guilty of committing terrorism and shall suffer the penalty of life imprisonment without the benefit of parole and the benefits of RA 10592, provided that, terrorism as defined 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. ”

The ATB increased the penalty to life imprisonment, from HSA’s 40 years of imprisonment. Those found guilty would not be able to benefit from the GCTA (Good conduct time allowance law). Any act you do in the above context, puts you in the purview and coverage of the ATB.

Not only is the actual commission of a terrorism act punishable, but this includes any threat to commit any act of terrorism (i.e. posting on Twitter or FB a status message that says “Pasasabugin ko na tong gubyernong to!”). Participating in any way in the planning, training, preparation in the commission of terrorism is also punishable. Conspiracy to commit, same thing.

Citizens who support terrorist activities/persons in any way will face criminal liability. The only groups exempted from providing support to terrorists are the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Philippine Red Cross, and other state-recognized impartial humanitarian partners or organizations in conformity with the International Humanitarian Law.  

Police and Military may access ID, call, and text and internet records of an individual by filing a simple application with the Court of Appeals to do so. It’s less difficult to do this in the ATB compared to the HSA, which then only allows digging into internet and phone records only after convincing the Court that there are no other effective means readily available for acquiring such evidence. Classified information, but still.

The person subject to this interference has no right to be informed if no case was filed against him or her after rummaging through your personal information and data history. We will never know we were under surveillance.  

A key component in the ATB is the creation and strengthening of the Anti Terror Council – I guess some could call, the modern-day Makapili (if the power is abused).

“The ATC may designate an individual, groups of persons, organization, or association, whether domestic or foreign, upon finding a probable cause that the individual, groups of persons, organization, or association commit or attempt to commit, or conspire in the commission of the acts defined and penalized under Sections 4 to 12 of this Act.

This council can basically identify who terror groups or persons are upon finding their own probable cause (something currently reserved for Public Prosecutors and Judges to determine) and freeze their assets, no Court order required.

Seems like the future members comprising the ATC have a lot of power in their hands! Speaking of accountability, in the HSA, reports are periodically required on terrorism-related cases, and in the ATB, an annual report will do. Status of pending cases is no longer required to be reported. Recommendations, reassessments are no longer required. That’s a lot of power if you ask me.

What hurts the most here is that if you are wrongly accused of the ATB and you’re innocent, there is no more compensation. Under the HAS, upon acquittal, any person who is accused of terrorism shall be entitled to the payment of damages in the amount of Five hundred thousand pesos (P500,000.00) for every day that he or she has been detained or deprived of liberty or arrested without a warrant as a result of such an accusation. Not in the ATB. Thank you, goodbye, if you’re wrongly accused.

In the HSA, the officer/informant is required to be disclosed. Not anymore in the ATB.

On the flip side, there are criminal provisions for government personnel who violate or take advantage of the ATB or use data mined for illegal means. But really, how often do we see government officials take accountability for violations. Anyway.

Ultimately, it goes down to implementation. I recall an incident where my husband was flagged by local police for violation of the traffic coding ordinance. My husband was a frontliner, an essential worker, and the existing EO exempting him was shown to the police officer, who only said: “Ahhh walay EO EO, ambi imo lisensya.” (Ahhh, I don’t care about the EO, give me your license.)

If I can’t trust the implementing agencies to do their jobs in the smallest degree, how do you make me trust them to implement this major legislation?  Abangan ang susunod na kabanata.