The Human Security Act and Philippine Journalism

With the HSA, the government has redefined, even if unintentionally, the tenet of objectivity in journalism. The powers-that-be have created a condition in the mass media that discourages an exhaustive research on issues and concerns by limiting the sources of information to those who are not in the terrorist list.

Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project
Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VII, No. 49, January 20-26, 2008

The Human Security Act (HSA) came into force only recently and yet already various national and international groups have denounced the law and called for its repeal. Why so? Why is the law not being given the chance to work? This paper seeks to analyze the weaknesses of the HSA as written and how it directly affects the practice of journalism.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed into law Republic Act (RA) No. 9372 or the Human Security Act of 2007 last March 6 and it took effect four months later on July 15.

During the March 6 signing ceremony, President Macapagal-Arroyo said that the HSA was an “institutional landmark of the 13th Congress” and would help the authorities to prosecute the ‘war on terror.’

“Now that we have more legal teeth in this fight, we shall continue to sharpen the intelligence and operational capabilities of the Armed Forces and Police, modernize and further professionalize them, and broaden the domestic and international alliance that will give us the edge to win and prevail,” she said.

The 35-page Human Security Act (HSA) states clearly that “(i)t is declared a policy of the State to protect life, liberty, and property from acts of terrorism, to condemn terrorism as inimical and dangerous to the national security of the country and to the welfare of the people, and to make terrorism a crime against the Filipino people, against humanity, and against the law of nations” (Section 2, paragraph 1).

A person is said to commit the crime of ‘terrorism’ if he or she engages in piracy in general and mutiny in the high seas or in the Philippine waters; rebellion or insurrection; coup d’etat, including acts committed by private persons; murder; kidnapping and serious illegal detention; and crimes involving destruction.

Section 3 seeks to qualify acts that are to be considered acts of ‘terrorism’. To earn the label ‘terrorist crime,’ acts should result in “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.”

The HSA explicitly states that journalists and their sources will not be subjected to “surveillance, interception and recording of communications” (Section 3, Paragraph 2) However, Raul Gonzales, secretary of the Department of Justice, was quoted in July as saying essentially that while existing law forbade the tapping of phones of journalists, the HSA supersedes everything else.

“If you are a journalist, you are free from wiretapping because the law says that journalists and their sources of information cannot be subjected to wiretapping. The fact that your source is a terrorist does not make you a terrorist per se. But if the journalist is now a suspect, then he can be wiretapped. You have first to be a suspect,” he said.

The opposition to the HSA mainly rests on the law’s broad definition of who is a terrorist. The so-called “condition of widespread and extraordinary fear and panic” among the people that may result from the identified crimes is so broad that anything and everything can be interpreted as such.

This prompted Caloocan Bishop Deogracias Yñiguez to brand the law as dangerous. “The anti-terror law will lead to greater tumult, especially when used to deal with those who do not agree with government’s thinking.”

What proves to be questionable is not only the law’s broad definition of terrorism, but, more importantly, the proscription of terrorist organizations. The full text of Section 17 reads:

“Any organization, association, or group of persons organized for the purpose of engaging in terrorism, or which, although not organized for that purpose, actually uses the acts to terrorize mentioned in this Act or to sow and create 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 shall, upon application of the Department of Justice before a competent Regional Trial Court, with due notice and opportunity to be heard given to the organization, association, or group of persons concerned, be declared as a terrorist and outlawed organizations, association, or group of persons by the said Regional Trial Court.” (Italics mine)

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