Proposed new antiterror law a threat to freedoms
The Senate recently passed Senate Bill No. 1083, which aims to repeal Republic Act No. 9372 or the Human Security Act of 2007, replacing it with an amended version dubbed the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.
If enacted, the new antiterrorism bill will become the most potent weapon the government can use to stifle dissent. In the hands of an administration that has shown its penchant for using the law to silence and punish its critics, and security apparatuses known for human rights abuses, the proposed measure will only serve as a legal framework for a crackdown on progressive organizations, civil society groups, activists, members of the media, and individuals labeled as dissidents or “enemies of the state.”
SB 1083 would broaden the powers already granted to law enforcement agencies under RA 9372, enabling them to conduct lengthier surveillance operations, wiretap and record private communications, access databases, examine bank records, and freeze the assets of persons and organizations suspected of financing terrorism or having connections with alleged terrorists. Worse, SB 1083 would also authorize the military to carry out surveillance activities previously reserved only for the police.
Under the proposed law, military personnel and other law enforcement agents would also be allowed to carry out warrantless arrests and detain suspected terrorists for an initial period of up to 14 days, extendable for another 10 days—a significant increase from the three-day maximum period for detention permitted under RA 9372. Notably, under SB 1083, those arrested and detained without warrant would not even have the benefit of being presented before a judge, as the bill removed, with no justification, this safeguard under RA 9372.
Apart from the dangerously broad powers given to the police, the military, and other government agencies under SB 1083, the proposed measure also expands the already vague definition for “terrorism” under the Human Security Act, with no clear parameters that could limit its application. SB 1083 takes it a step further by criminalizing acts that have traditionally been considered legitimate exercises of free speech, freedom of expression, the right of peaceful assembly, and freedom of association.
Arguably, the most dangerous innovation sought to be introduced by SB 1083 is a mechanism allowing for the immediate declaration of an organization as a terrorist or outlawed group, with no prior notice whatsoever to the subject organization, no opportunity for it to respond, and no hearing.
The brazenly oppressive provisions of SB 1083 are alarming, to say the least. Unless vigilance is exercised in the coming weeks, and action taken to prevent it from becoming law, we risk finding ourselves, once again, having to contend with a significantly diminished democratic space and considerable threats to even the most fundamental of freedoms.
EPHRAIM B. CORTEZ, secretary general,
JOSALEE S. DEINLA, spokesperson,
National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers,
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