Why the anti-terror bill is sanctioned state terrorism

UP students gather at UP Diliman Palma Hall steps for a solidarity action in their Black Friday Protest. File photo by Menchani Tilendo / Bulatlat)

Who is exempted from being labeled “terrorists?” Rights defenders, lawyers, journalists, Church people, peasants, indigenous peoples and workers have been publicly vilified by state security forces as such.

ALSO READ: Anti-terror bill removes safeguards, accountability


MANILA – The Senate passed on third and final reading Senate Bill 1083 or the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020. The bill seeks to repeal the Human Security Act of 2007, amending provisions purportedly to strengthen the government’s campaign against terrorism.

The major problem lies with the definition of terrorism.

In a statement, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) said SB 1083 “criminalizes acts which have, traditionally, been considered legitimate exercises of free speech, freedom of expression, the right of peaceful assembly, and freedom of association.

Conspiracy to commit terrorism, for example, is punishable by life imprisonment without the benefit of parole. Threat to commit terrorism, meanwhile, could lead to 12 years imprisonment.

Given the widespread practice of red tagging and vilification of political dissenters, any one could be accused of committing terrorism, conspiring to commit terrorism or threatening to commit terrorism.

Even journalists in Cagayan de Oro City and Iloilo City  campaigning for the renewal of ABS-CBN franchise have been tagged as “communist-terrorists.”

The NUPL pointed out that SB 1083 infringes on the constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech and association. Even though the speaker or writer takes no direct part in any terrorist act, if his/her speech is viewed as “inciting others to commit terrorism,” he or she could be charged with the crime.

Mere membership in an organization considered to be a terrorist group is punishable by 12 years imprisonment and the person who encourages others to join such an organization becomes liable as a “recruiter,” and could be subject to life imprisonment.

Who is exempted from being labeled “terrorists?” Rights defenders, lawyers, journalists, Church people, peasants, indigenous peoples and workers have been publicly vilified by state security forces as such.

Members of the opposition and Church leaders, meanwhile, have been charged with inciting to sedition and conspiracy to commit sedition. Media groups and human rights lawyers were named in a fabricated plot to oust President Rodrigo Duterte. If SB 1083 is passed, it would be easier to accuse political dissenters of “conspiring to commit terrorism.”

Proposal to commit terrorism, planning, training, preparing, facilitating the commission of terrorism, and providing material support to terrorists are also considered crimes under SB 1083.

In his critique to the proposed Anti-Terror bills, Rene Estocapio of NUPL- Iloilo maintained that the crime of terrorism is based primarily on intent. This, he said, gives an inordinate amount of discretion to law enforcers, prosecutors, and judges who – at one point or another – would have to assess whether a particular act qualifies as a crime under the anti-terror bill.

“Because of the gravity of the offense penalized under the proposed law, granting considerable leeway to public officials in determining the qualifying element of intent carries serious due process implications,” Estocapio said.

In its position paper, human rights alliance Karapatan pointed out that the anti-terror bill will be used against activists and political dissenters, in an attempt to deter them from advocating for reforms or social change.

Karapatan documented nearly 1,000 activists and political dissenters charged with common crimes, and 604 of them are unjustly in prison.

‘Instant terror tag’

SB 1083 provides for immediate declaration of any group as “terrorist organization” by virtue of the so-called preliminary order of proscription.

Under the bill, the Department of Justice (DOJ), with the authority of the Anti-Terror Council and upon the recommendation of National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA), may file an application to designate any group as terrorist. The Court of Appeals only needs to establish probable cause before issuing preliminary order of proscription within 72 hours from the filing of the said application.

Estocapio said that the standard of probable cause is relatively low standard of proof considering the grave implications of such a judicial order.

The summary hearing accorded to the respondent group may be held as far back as six months later.

Warrantless arrests, intrusions on privacy

Any person suspected of the crime could be detained without judicial warrant of arrest for 14 days. The detention could be extended up to ten days.

Even during preliminary determination of probable cause, suspects’ right to travel may be restricted. If evidence is not strong, those suspected of terrorism may be placed under house arrest and may not use cellphone, telephone or other means of communication with people outside the residence. If the evidence if strong, the Department of Foreign Affairs will cancel his/her passport.

The bill also empowers the Anti-Money Laundering Council to investigate, inquire into, examine bank deposits of any group/person without a court order if there is probable cause to believe that he/she is committing, or attempting to commit, or conspiring to commit terrorism or facilitating the financing of acts of terrorism.

The authority to freeze assets will last up to 20 days but may be extended up to six months.

This has been done with Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP), a religious NGO dedicated to serving the rural poor. RMP found its 19 bank accounts frozen for 20 days, and the order could be extended up to 60 days.  The vague reasoning provided by AMLC is that there is “probable cause that the BPI accounts of RMP are related to terrorism financing.”

The bill also provides the green light for law enforcement agents or military personnel to subject suspected persons/groups to intense surveillance. State agents may secretly wiretap, overhear and listen to, intercept, screen, read or collect, with the use of any mode, form or type of electronic, mechanical and other equipment or device or technology any private communications, discussions, conversations, data or messages in whatever form, kind or nature, spoken or written words between designated terrorists or any person charged with or suspected of committing terrorism.

The authorized surveillance could last up to 60 days and may be extended up to another 30 days. State agents only need to file ex parte application (which means the suspect will not be informed or heard) with the Court of Appeals for the issuance of an order to compel telecommunications service providers and internet service providers to produce all customer information and records, including call and text records and cellular and internet metadata. Upon the issuance of the order, the National Telecommunications Commission is, then, tasked to ensure immediate compliance.

The NUPL summarized it correctly when it said, “If enacted, the new anti-terrorism bill will become the most potent weapon the government can use to stifle dissent.”

“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 labelled as dissidents or ‘enemies of the state,’” the group said. (https://www.bulatlat.com)

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