Bishop warns: Anti-terror law may be used to silence critics

By Jerome Aning
Last updated 11:38pm (Mla time) 07/04/2007

MANILA, Philippines — The anti-terror law, when applied to critics of the government, the opposition and dissidents, would lead to greater conflict in Philippine society, a Roman Catholic prelate warned on Wednesday.


“I think the anti-terror law will lead to greater tumult, especially when it is used to deal with those who do not agree with government’s thinking,” Caloocan Bishop Deogracias Yniguez said in an interview over the Catholic-owned Radio Veritas.


The bishop noted the law’s stringent measures against those suspected of terrorism, whose definition covers a wide array of offenses ranging from coup d’ etat and piracy to manufacture of explosives and highway robbery.


“Based on what I heard from others, since I’m not anti-terrorism expert myself, the government would be given martial law-type or more than martial-law type powers that may be utilized to abuse many rights of our citizens,” he added.


The bishop, a known critic of the Arroyo administration, said he wished Congress and the Supreme Court would take more pains to review the law and its implementing guidelines.


“Otherwise, it will be the occasion for so many abuses, especially with the way the government is being run nowadays,” he added.


Yñiguez expressed concerns over the interpretation and enforcement of Section 19 and 26 of Republic Act No. 7932 or the Human Security Act of 2007 that deal with detention and travel restrictions on terror suspects.


“These provisions are dangerous to the citizens, and could be used by people in the government who have no conscience to persecute those that they consider to be enemies,” according to him.


According to Section 26, the person charged with the crime of terrorism or conspiracy to terrorism would be entitled to bail in cases where evidence of guilt is not strong.


However, the court, upon the petition of the prosecutor, may limit the right of travel of the accused. The suspect may be prohibited from leaving the city or municipality where he is residing unless permitted by the court.


The suspect may also be placed under house arrest by the court, during which he may not use telephones, cellphones, e-mails, computers, the Internet or other means of communications with people outside the residence until otherwise ordered by the court.
Section 19 states that in the event of an actual or imminent terrorist attack, the arrested suspects may not be detained for more than three days without the written approval of a municipal, city, provincial or regional official of a Human Rights Commission or judge of the municipal, regional trial court, the Sandiganbayan or a justice of the Court of Appeals nearest the place of the arrest.


If the arrest is made during Saturdays, Sundays, holidays or after office hours, the arresting police or law enforcement personnel shall bring the person arrested to the residence of any of the officials mentioned earlier nearest the place where the accused has been arrested.


The approval in writing of any of these officials must be secured by the police or law enforcement personnel concerned within five days after the date of the detention of the persons concerned. If the suspect’s connection with the terror attack or threat is not established after three days from arrest, he would be released immediately.


Malacañang has yet to release the implementing rules and guidelines for the law.


Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita earlier said the first step in implementing the law would be to form the Anti-Terrorism Council that would oversee plans and programs in the campaign against terrorists.


The government is set to hold a nationwide information campaign about the purposes and salient features of the law.


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