The Anti-Terror Bill is now ready for President Duterte’s signature after The Senate and The House of Representatives have passed the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 or the House Bill 6875. This was after receiving an astounding 173 affirmative votes, 31 against and 29 abstentions.
The Anti-Terror Bill describes terrorism as committing specific violent acts to destabilize society, propagate a message of fear or intimidate or scare the public. The President requested for the urgent passage of the Anti-Terrorism Act in order to focus on the immediate need to intensify the anti-terrorism law to effectively and adequately contain the threat of terrorist acts for the security of national security.
Lawyers and different groups are anxious over potential abuses of the provision. According to them, the bill was vague and anybody could be accused of terrorism or mistaken as a terrorist just by criticizing the government.
For instance, the critics mentioned the recent incidents wherein the government used coercion against ordinary civilians who were just expressing disapproval on the way officials respond on the COVID-19 crisis as proof that the current administration could exploit the unclear provisions of the bill.
Longer detention, warrantless arrests with no charges
If an individual is suspected of disobeying the proposed bill, he or she may be apprehended for as long as twenty-four days even with no particular charges. As National Union of People’s Lawyers put it, any terrorist suspect may be detained on the simple impression of engagement and involvement in heinous terrorism acts.
The Anti-Terror bill lets law enforcers take suspects into custody on the basis of authorization from the ATC or Anti-Terrorism Council that is made up of various security officials and Cabinet secretaries.
Under Article 125 (Revised Penal Code), a prisoner should be bought to the appropriate judicial authorities in twelve to thirty-six hours and HSA Section lets law enforcers detain suspects with no judicial warrant and grants them 3 days from the moment of custody, apprehension or arrest with no judicial warrant.
With the new bill, the present 3-day period extends to 14 days and this period may be extended for 10 more days if additional imprisonment is needed to secure evidence and avoid the commission of further act of terrorism.
No need to examine for torture
The Anti-Terror Bill has crossed out the present provision for police officers to offer an detained suspect to a judge. Several crimes under the Anti-Terror Bill are punishable with life confinement, which is non-bailable unless the evidence of the prosecution is not powerful enough vindicate indefinite arrest.
The critics of the administration fear that the officials would just use the said bill to silence the opposition even further. Aside from extended detention period without charges, it also lets wiretapping and lets a body, which is not a court to determine who the terrorists are. And all these were too much power.
The government, however rejected concerns over the Anti-Terror Bill. According to President Duterte’s Spokesperson Harry Roque, the Constitution prevails as the structural assurance of freedom of expression. Additionally, Senator Panfilo Lacson stated that he had ensured that the Anti-Terror Bill complies to the Bill of Rights as specified in the 1987 Constitution.