No rules in anti-terrorism drive
I warmly support President Benigno Aquino III’s proposal to have the Anti-Terrorism Law (or the Human Security Act of 2007 or Republic Act 9372) amended in order to facilitate the prosecution of any person for terrorist acts. (Inquirer, 8/17/11)
First of all, its definition of terrorism as a crime committed by any person with the objective of “sowing and creating a condition of widespread and extraordinary fear and panic among the populace, in order to coerce the government to give in to an unlawful demand” (Sec. 3) is deficient and vague.
“Fear and panic” are in themselves abstract terms capable of being understood only in a subjective sense. Their existence is really just a matter of personal feeling. One may, indeed, be in a state of fear or panic without showing it on his face or giving any outward indication thereof. His body language may not be reflective of his true feelings.
“Widespread and extraordinary,” standing alone, are meaningless. Their meaning cannot be readily grasped by the ordinary reader who would be kept guessing as to their true import.
And what could be an “unlawful demand” that would concern the government? Will a demand be unlawful on the mere say-so of law enforcement authorities or of the Anti-Terrorism Council created under the law?
The law could have included a “Definition of Terms” section that would provide clear-cut definitions of these terms, alongside other terms not quite familiar to the layman (e.g., “conflict management” and “post-conflict peace-building” found elsewhere in the law) in the context that they are used therein.
I am apprehensive that in enforcing the law, it would be extremely difficult to ascertain the existence of a state or condition of fear and panic of widespread and extraordinary proportions among the populace. It certainly would not be easy for the prosecutors to prove beyond reasonable doubt this element of the crime of terrorism. There will always be doubt and uncertainty as to whether the fear and panic are widespread and extraordinary. Indeed, there may be fear and panic but if these are not widespread and extraordinary, there is no crime of terrorism. The task of implementing the law would therefore be formidable. Absent specific, concrete legislative restrictions, the implementing power would be virtually a “roving commission” that is unfettered and unrestrained. The determination of widespread and extraordinary fear and panic among the populace would be left entirely to their sole judgment and discretion and may likely be arbitrary, whimsical and capricious. The implementing authorities cannot rely on mere perception which is not reality.
In sum, the law should have set forth fixed or rigid parameters or at least determinable standards to guide law enforcement authorities and the Anti-Terrorism Council in the discharge of their respective tasks and thereby forestall tyranny and despotism in the implementation and enforcement of the law.
—BARTOLOME C. FERNANDEZ JR.,
5431 Curie St.,
Palanan, Makati City
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