December 2, 2023

The Anti-Terrorism Bill is full of errors

I could not agree more to the comments and recommendations of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines on Senate Bill 1083 and House Bill 6875 concerning the Anti-Terrorism Bill (ATB), particularly:

1. Paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of Section 4 that virtually penalize mere “acts intended to cause” which is too broad and purely subjective;

2. Section 25 which gives power to the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) to “designate” a suspected terrorist a function which is exclusive to the court under the Human Security Act; and to freeze his assets through the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) ex parte which is deprivation of property without due process of law under Section 1, Art. III of the Constitution;

3. Section 34 which states: “while allowing accused to post bail when evidence of guilt is not strong, nevertheless restricts his right to travel or place him under house arrest and incommunicado, and renders nugatory the constitutional rights to be presumed innocent, and also the effects of bail and the right to counsel;

4. And the infamous Section 29 which allows detention for up to 24 days which is a violation of Section 18 Art. VII of the Constitution; upon a written authority to detain by the ATC which is a violation of the exclusive power of the court to issue warrant of arrest on the basis of probable cause; and without incurring criminal and civil liability on the detention officer thereby decriminalizing illegal arrest and detention, which is again a violation of the Constitution.

There are existing legal remedies to fight terrorism and other crimes. These are the following:

1. Warrantless arrest under Rule 113 without resorting to authority to detain by the ATC which is a violation of the exclusive power of the court to issue warrant of arrest;

2. Search warrant under Section 3 Art. II of the Constitution, and search incidental to a lawful arrest;

3. Hold departure order to restrict the accused from leaving the country while the case is being tried in court;

4. Precautionary hold departure order, where the Department of Justice may file a petition to the designated regional trial courts (RTC) of City of Manila, Quezon City, Cebu City, Iloilo City, Davao City, and Cagayan de Oro City as provided under A.M. 18-07-05-SC or the “Rule on Precautionary Hold Departure Order” to restrict the respondent from leaving the country pending preliminary investigation;

5. Sections 7 to 10 of Republic Act 9872 or the Human Security Act of 2007, which authorize surveillance, and interceptions and recordings of communications of suspected terrorists for a period of 30 days which can be used as an evidence in court; and

6. Section 17  of RA 9872, which provides that upon application and hearing, the RTC may declare any organization, association or group of persons  as “terrorists” and “outlawed” and therefore “hot pursuit” may follow.

These are some of the many more remedies available to combat terrorism. 

Several years ago, then Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Gen. Eduardo Año has decimated or arrested the New People’s Army leadership without an “Anti-Terror Law.” 

Former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada and his generals did the same with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front without an “Anti-Terror Law.” 

If inspite of these remedies and proven efficacy in fighting terrorism without an Anti-Terror Law, including billions of budget for “intelligence,” the proponents still want a “robust law” which is outside the bounds of the Constitution, then I am afraid but to entertain the meaning of incompetence.

Going back to the ATB, do the proponents, supporters and enforcers think they can secure the conviction of terrorists under this constitutionally flawed bill? 

Obviously, no. On the contrary, I expect more dismissals of cases or acquittals. If detention of suspects and the filing of information in court is considered “success” in the combat against terrorism, even if it will result to acquittal, then it appears to me that the bill is nothing but a tool for promotion.

Sadly, after President Rody Duterte won in 2016, many of the NPA leaders arrested by Gen. Año were released. Erap and his generals likewise stood down against the MILF. These look like mere hunting games to me.

So I hope that if and when a refined bill passes constitutional scrutiny, there will be no more political accommodation for terrorists but to include disqualification for parole or pardon in the penalty.

When the provisions of the law are vague and full of constitutional defects, the terrorists will certainly benefit from it instead of serving its purpose against them. 

On other hand, it will also benefit those who will abuse it. And the so-called “collateral damage” is never a justification to trample upon the constitutional rights of any suspect, especially the innocent. 

I am not in favor of the present version of the bill because of fear that it will certainly benefit both the violators and the abusers, not the stakeholders.

Again, I join the snowballing clamor for our lawmakers to refine the ATB in accordance with the Constitution. Better yet, amend the Constitution and make it more responsive to the needs of the times, but por favor, not for the politically-inspired federalism. — ATTY. ALAN ANTONIO S. MAZO, Baguio City