Phils: Anti-terror bill made to stop terrorists, not to inconvenience activists

MANILA – A Leyte solon on Thursday came to the defence of the anti-terrorism bill saying it was made to stop terrorists, not to make life inconvenient and uncomfortable for activists and those who voice out dissent.

In her Facebook post on Thursday evening, Leyte 4th District Rep. Lucy Torres-Gomez appealed to understand the bill and its right target.

“In International Law, terrorism is the highest crime against humanity. It is dishonest and a grave injustice to dilute its strength and purpose by putting activists, critics, and bashers in the same category as terrorists,” Torres-Gomez said.

Clarifying opposition’s claims, she urged not to reduce the argument as a simple choice between human rights in one corner, and terrorism in the other.

“Because terrorists have no regard for human life or rights, their intent and actions so brutal and evil they can never even be mistaken as activists,” she added.

She went on to share the double bombing of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Jolo, Mindanao on January 27, 2019, while devotees were gathered for a Sunday Mass. The blast, which was claimed by Abu Sayyaf and Islamic State (IS) groups, left 20 people dead and 120 injured.

The incident, she said, was not because there was no intelligence information on the arrival of Indonesian terrorists in Jolo. They were, in fact, red-flagged by the Immigration bureau.

“The sad truth is, that bombing could have been prevented if only the Human Security Act (HSA) of 2007 provided for the arrest of foreign nationals suspected of terrorism,” she lamented. “It would be wise to review the Human Security Act of 2007 to understand its significant shortcomings, such that a new law to repeal it was deemed necessary.”

HSA 2007 not equipped 

She added that what is most glaring in the HSA is that it is not equipped to prevent a terrorist act from being undertaken.

In fact, she said, after 13 years since the HSA was enacted into law, only one person of the four arrested suspects in connection to the 2018 Marawi siege was convicted.

“Most cases involving terrorists were tried using the Revised Penal Code, a law that is predisposed to penalize acts already committed. Hence, we have no legal arsenal to stop terrorist plotters before they inflict widespread death and destruction.,” Torres-Gomez said.

No provision for foreign terrorists

The HSA, she added, has no provision intended for foreign terrorists.

She said the Philippines’ inability to arrest and prosecute suspected terrorists, keeps law enforcement’s hands tied until a terrorist event occurs.

“It’s like giving the terrorists a free pass, telling them that we are just going to watch their acts of terror unfold first, and then we get our cue to run after them. The terrorists are literally having “more fun in the Philippines,” because our laws allow it so.,” she said. “This makes us a very conducive venue to undertake, plan, and prepare for terrorist activities.”

Haven for ISIS recruitment

She added that it is no secret the Philippines has been a haven for Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) terrorists who have started recruiting members since 2016

“Terrorism is a regional activity, and in the whole SEA (Southeast Asia) region, our anti-terrorism laws are the most lenient. They all come here because it is easy for them to not only stay but also thrive and increase in number,” she said in her lengthy post.

In the wake of strong opposition against HB 6875 or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 during the recent week. Torres-Gomez urged Filipinos to “read the bill first-hand and not rely on second-hand opinions of others who may have been influenced by those who twisted the interpretation of actual sections of the bill to suit their accusations.”

Disturbing questions

“Contrary to popular belief, one cannot be easily called or “designated” a terrorist. This law is not meant to arrest regular protestors fighting for causes they believe in. This law is meant to prevent fatal and disastrous terrorist events from happening,” she said, adding that neither will it quell freedom of expression that is a basic human right.

For those who are worried about opposing the president, or expressing dissent against the government or any of its officials, Torres-Gomez suggested reviewing Articles 138, 139, and 142 of the Revised Penal Code.

“You will find that these are existing laws on inciting rebellion and sedition which are more incriminating than this Anti-terrorism bill,” she added.

She said the bill with not hinder people from attending rallies and neither can they be arrested by attending rallies.

To be arrested, she added, the one speaking during the rally incites or encourages other people to commit acts that: a) threaten to kill, harm people; b) extensively damage property; c) make or possess weapons of mass destruction; d) damage or interfere with critical infrastructure; and e) release substances to cause fire or explosion to create public fear, emergency and destabilize the country.

“It is misleading to take either just the intentions or just the actions and insist those be the definition of a suspected terrorist. And if we all just understand that the intentions and actions that constitute terrorism are really GRAVE and DEVASTATING to our country, we will not let fear get in the way of apprehending and bringing REAL TERRORISTS to justice,” she said.

Prevent another Marawi siege, etc.

The bill, she said, is intended to prevent another Marawi siege, the bombing of public venues, and the Mamasapano massacre.

“And lest we make this all about ourselves and our fears of how we may be held accountable for what we say or do as we exercise our civil rights, think of our soldiers who are dismembered by terrorists, remember, too, the SAF 44, that we were all so outraged about,” she added.

Role of Anti-Terrorism Council

Serious reservations, especially in the determination of “probable cause,” can be addressed to the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) and the Department of Justice to establish “safeguards” against wrongful arrest and designation, she said.

“These bodies can put in place clear-cut, evidence-based procedures in determining “probable cause” in the bill’s Implementing Rules and Regulations, to be crafted 90 days after the bill’s approval,” Torres-Gomez said.

She went on to clarify that the ATC, which is a nine-man council made up of cabinet members, tasked to implement the Anti-Terrorism Act, has the most significant powers – designation of a person or organization as a suspected terrorist, and authorizing warrantless arrest for 14-24 days, upon finding “probable cause” of terrorist activities defined in the Act.

“Without these provisions, we have no way of apprehending terrorists BEFORE the attacks actually happen. Please take note, probable cause has to be established. It is explicitly stated,” she added.

The HSA of 2007, she said, is unresponsive to the realities of actual terrorist operations that is covert and fast-paced while the Anti-terrorism Act of 2020 facilitates timely action to prevent terrorist activities.

No better time than now

While Torres-Gomez agrees with some sectors that this is not the time to enact an anti-terror bill due to coronavirus disease 2019, she said the pandemic will not deter terrorist plots.

This bill, she said, has been languishing in Congress since 2016 and went through many hearings at the committee level, long before it reached plenary.

‘In fact, this is a vulnerable time for us. Perhaps we can all agree that there is no better time than the present to protect our people from the threats of terrorism.,” she added. (PNA)

By Gigie Arcilla, PNA