MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE 3) The anti-terror law will take effect mid-July, a senior Malacañang official said Wednesday, despite protests by some lawmakers and leftwing groups.
Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said the anti-terrorism council was working to complete all requisites to ensure the measure would commence July 15.
Deputy National Security Adviser Pedro Cabuay on Tuesday said Malacañang was likely to put off its implementation, saying the rules and regulations have yet to be formulated and public discussions on its ramifications conducted.
But Ermita said the government was prepared to comply with the stipulations of the law on publication in newspapers and airing on television and radio in designated areas to make the public aware of the new law. He said the government has also come up with a primer on the law for nationwide distribution.
The Human Security Act allows police to detain suspected terrorists without charge for three days and includes rebellion among crimes considered terrorism. It also allows court-authorized surveillance of suspects, including wiretaps and tracking devices, and suspects’ personal assets can be frozen.
Under the law, the crime of terrorism includes piracy in general or mutiny in high seas, rebellion or insurrection, coup d’etat, including acts committed by private persons, murder, kidnapping and serious illegal detention, and crimes involving destruction, such as arson.
The crime of terrorism is punishable by 40 years of imprisonment without parole.
Arroyo signed Republic Act 9372 on March 6 but its implementation was deferred until after the May 14 elections to allay the fears it would be used to harass Arroyo’s political foes, including leftwing groups.
To help ensure that law enforcers will not abuse their authority, lawmakers included provisions like having to pay acquitted suspects P500,000 in damages “for every day that he or she has been detained or deprived of liberty or arrested without a warrant.”
But Bayan Muna (People First) Representative Teodoro Casiño has asked Arroyo to suspend indefinitely the implementation of the law while opposition Senator Maria Ana Consuelo “Jamby” Madrigal was seeking the repeal of what she described as “the most dangerous piece of legislation passed by the Philippine Congress.”
“The anti-terror law, deceivingly labeled the Human Security Act, is like loaded gun to be given to a homicidal maniac who does not respect the rule of law and of internationally human rights standards,” Casiño said in a statement.
“Congress should be given the time to review and repeal the law that violates the country’s various commitments to international human rights treaties,” he said.
Bayan Muna and other left-leaning partylist groups in the House have been blocking the passage of the measure, saying it will violate basic human rights and might be used against activists and militant organizations.
Madrigal, who had fought against the passage of the law, said it was “replete with provisions that ravage constitutional guarantees” such as freedom of speech, freedom of communication and correspondence, right to travel, as well as an individual’s right to be secure in their things and in their person.
“This draconian law should be shredded to pieces and thrown into the garbage bin. The use of violence against civilians under any guise should be opposed. National security should not be used as an excuse to stifle basic freedoms and constitutionally-guaranteed human rights,” the senator said in a bill she filed for the repeal of the anti-terror law.
Madrigal further argued that the anti-terrorism law created a shadow criminal justice system and could be used as an instrument of greater terror perpetrated by people in power against their critics and political opponents.
“There is no clear definition of who a terrorist is. A person maybe labeled as one by reason solely of his or her political or religious belief and his or her defense thereof. The vagueness of defining a terrorist is not limited to the Philippines. Since 1995, the United Nations has yet to come up with a clear definition of whom or what constitutes a terrorist,” she said.
A UN human rights expert in March called for the repeal or amendment of the law, saying its definition of terrorism was overly broad and the measure could have a negative impact on human rights.
But proponents of the measure allayed fears of those claiming that the law violated human rights.
“The common concern is that the law would violate some basic human rights, which is not true since the Human Security Act contains more than 100 safeguards against abuses,” Domogan said in a joint statement with Cebu Representative Antonio Cuenco.
Domogan and Cuenco had supported Malacañang’s plan to hold a summit to clarify what it called as wrong perceptions about the law by some “paranoid” groups.
But the summit should also be matched by nationwide consultations and an information drive to adequately inform the public about the fundamentals of the measure, they said.
The lawmakers explained that the summit would only cover aspects of decision-making and setting the network for its implementation while the nationwide consultations and information drive would delve into the nitty-gritty of the law.
“Public discussions on the measure would also let the people realize that they also have a part or responsibility in implementing the law,” Cuenco said.
“While authorities are at the forefront of fighting terror, the public should also contribute and support government to ensure the success of its endeavor,” Cuenco said.
Local and international human rights groups have recently accused the Philippine military of waging a “dirty war” against leftwing activists, including extra-judicial killings and disappearances.
The local human rights group Karapatan has reported more than 800 people killed and another 200 abducted since President Arroyo came to power in 2001 and vowed to crack down on Muslim militants and communist rebels.
Most of the victims belonged to leftist groups linked by the military to the rural communist insurgency that has dragged on for 39 years. With The Associated Press