Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Vol. V,    No. 7      March 20 - 26, 2005      Quezon City, Philippines











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The anti-terrorism bill being pushed by the Philippine government in the legislature has been deemed by the NUJP as inimical to the public's right to a free press and an affront to civil liberties and democracy itself. In this primer, the NUJP highlights the provisions and scope of the bill that would curtail these basic freedoms.

1) What is the anti-terrorism bill?

All anti-terrorism bills so far filed in the Philippine Congress seek to (1) define terrorism, (2) establish various mechanisms to prevent terrorism from being committed; and (3) set penalties for those found engaged in it.

All attempts to draft laws against terrorism have so far failed. House Bill 5923 filed during the previous congress (12th Congress) is the most consolidated anti-terrorism bill so far. During the present congress (13th), at least 10 anti-terrorism bills have been filed
again, with features quite similar to HB 5923.

The counterpart law in the United States is the US Patriot Act, enacted after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

2) What is terrorism?

There is no existing internationally accepted definition for terrorism. The Geneva Declaration on Terrorism (UN General Assembly Doc. A/42/307, 29 May 1987, Annex) specifically mentions terrorism as originating from the state.

3) How is terrorism defined in the bills now filed in Congress?

The bills generally define terrorism as the use of violence or other destructive means to create public panic or individual fear or to force or scare the government from doing certain acts. Threatening to use violence to create panic is also considered terrorism.

"Destructive means" include harming people, destroying public or private property or critical infrastructure or essential facilities or mass transportation systems, taking people hostage, killing or attacking persons, attacking the cyberspace, engaging in environmental abuse, and handling nuclear or similarly harmful weapons.

Certain acts in connection with terrorism are also to be penalized, such as spreading false information that a terrorist act is being carried out, or failing to tell government any information one may possess about any terrorist acts.

4) How are "terrorists" defined in those bills?

"Terrorists," according to these bills, can be either individuals or groups.

Individuals found engaging in the acts described above would be considered terrorists. So would two or more persons who agree to engage in terrorism, as defined above. One could also be charged of terrorism if found contributing to it, for instance, hiding a
"terrorist," giving money, helping arrange meetings, providing training facilities, and similar acts.

Groups shall be identified as terrorist if the Secretary of Justice, in consultation with an Anti-Terrorism Council that would still be created, declared them as participating in or encouraging terrorist acts, or if simply proscribed (banned) by international organizations
such as the United Nations. Individuals affiliated with such proscribed organizations might be liable unless they prove certain conditions that exempt them from prosecution.

5) What would happen to persons suspected of terrorism?

Suspects may be detained for as long as 30 days, or longer, if the suspect is arrested without warrant, demands a preliminary investigation and consents to the longer detention in the presence of counsel.

A person found committing a terrorist act would pay a P10-million fine and suffer life imprisonment, or even death if the terrorist act resulted in another person's death. The same set of penalties would apply to persons found merely facilitating or contributing to the terrorist act. The same set of penalties would also apply to persons found merely threatening to commit terrorist acts as defined.

Persons found proposing any terrorist act would be fined five million pesos and suffer a six- to 12-year imprisonment. Those found spreading false information about terrorist acts, and those hiding information they may possess about terrorist acts, would also be jailed for six to 12 years and fined 50,000 to 100,000 pesos, and if working in government, be forever banned from holding public office.

Members of proscribed organizations, unless they are able to prove certain conditions that exempt them, would be jailed for six to 12 years, and if working in government, forever banned from holding public office.

Persons who decide to turn state witness shall be given state protection.

6) What other government measures would be carried out against terrorism?

The bills allow the use of surveillance devices such as tape recorders, cameras, electronic tracking devices, telephone bugs, among others. The courts would be asked to issue authorizations with a 60-day coverage as well as set the limits of the surveillance device.
Persons who turn state witness are to be given state protection. Government shall put up an Anti-Terrorism Council, consisting of eight Cabinet secretaries and the national security adviser, which shall set policy, direct and coordinate the implementation of anti-terrorist measures. Certain terrorist acts would subject to further consideration under the existing Anti-Money Laundering Act.

7) What are the objectionable features of these proposed laws against terrorism?

assembly, the right to privacy, and other constitutionally-mandated rights are likely to be abused. State powers are greatly expanded, directly threatening political dissent and independent action.

Present laws recognize conspiracy only in application to cases of rebellion, sedition, or treason, which are political crimes. Thus, the anti-terrorism bills may be intended to penalize political dissidents, or even mere political opponents.

Allowing deposits or investments to be examined without a court order is a controversial feature of the anti-money laundering law.

A person acquitted of multiple murder might still be charged with terrorism for the same offense.

Once information is filed against an accused, the person could lose access to his or her property even without being informed.

PHRASES TOO SWEEPING. The phrase "terrorism in all its guises," for example, allows a very loose interpretation that could result in getting legitimate but progressive organizations tagged as terrorist or terrorist fronts. Labor strikes or transport strikes might fall under terrorist acts. Acts that are part of expressions of civil unrest might also be included.

A mere plan that might damage property or a simple proposal to hack into a computer could be considered terrorist acts.

A person who runs amok in a marketplace could easily be charged of terrorism under the proposed definition. An irate employee threatening a business establishment might also be considered a terrorist act under the proposed definition.

VAGUE AND CONFUSING PHRASES. The bills refer to the intent of terrorism as "creating a common danger, terror, panic or chaos," which does not really touch on the usual intent of terrorism, which are more likely to be political, ideological, or religious. This opens the possibility that the bills could be directed against persons with political beliefs critical of the status quo.

REDUNDANCY. Most of the acts identified as unlawful are already under the Revised Penal Code, which include acts such as treason and espionage, but in the context of war.

Acts against cyberspace are already included in an existing anti-hacking law. Many laws have been passed against environmental damage. Some features allow a suspect to be prosecuted under both the Revised Penal Code and the proposed anti-terrorism bill, opening the door to dual prosecution and conviction.

DRACONIAN PENALTIES. A mere proposal to engage in terrorism would be penalized with six- to 12-years imprisonment. The police need only to prove mere threat and the accused could be slapped a life sentence. Relatives of suspected terrorists who might have fed or sheltered the suspects could be liable to life punishment, even if they themselves never committed acts of terrorism.

DECEPTIVE PHRASEOLOGY. In the proposed preamble of these said bills, terrorism is described as a "crime against the law of nations and humanity." However, there is no definition of terrorism under International Law, and terrorism is not "a crime against humanity" under International Law. The bills in Congress are mostly silent about
terrorism engendered by the state.

8) What are the status of the anti-terrorism bills in Congress?

A technical working group in the House is preparing a consolidated draft for submission to House Committee on Justice. The Armed Forces of the Philippines intends to add three more provisions in the House bill, one of them outlawing interviews with suspected terrorists.

The Senate committee on public order has yet to conduct a public hearing on the five bills filed. After the public hearing is completed, a technical working group will be created to consolidate the bills into one.

9) Who are the proponents of the various anti-terrorism bills?

In the House: Representatives Imee Marcos, Marcelino Libanan, Amado Espino Jr, Teodoro Locsin Jr., Ace Barbers, Dodot Jaworski, Douglas Cagas, Rufino Biazon and Judy Syjuco have all submitted different versions.

In the Senate: Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Panfilo Lacson, Ramon Magsaysay Jr., Alfredo Lim, Manuel Villar and Jinggoy Estrada have filed different bills.

10) What are the implication of these bills specifically on press freedom and the people's right to know?

Reporters are supposed to develop as many sources as possible, including those the government might consider "terrorist." If any of the anti-terrorism bills now pending were passed, journalists would be obliged to become witnesses against these sources, or else be in danger of being themselves charged with helping terrorism.

More reporters would feel the need to restrain themselves when covering controversial sources. In effect, a broad range of ideas or information would be withheld from the people, affecting their ability to make informed judgments on important political and economic issues, such as the Muslim rebellion and the underground left movement, or even economic issues such as money laundering.

Coverage of Muslim issues is likely to further deteriorate, further aggravating Muslim citizens, and deepening the resentment many already feel over their present treatment.

Ignorance of the issues would impair the rights and responsibilities of all citizens to effectively participate in the democratic processes.

March 2005
Manila, Philippines



• House of Representatives’ Technical Working Group Draft as of Feb. 24, 2005

• Minutes of Meetings of the House of Representatives’ Technical Working Group

• Initial Legal Bullet Points re 2005 Anti-Terrorism Bill in the House of Representatives by Atty. Edre Olalia

NUJP Launches Petition vs Anti-Terror Bills
Says bills violate press freedom, civil liberties

Full Text of the NUJP Petition Against the Anti-Terrorism Bills

Related Articles:

Never Again!
By the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines

News Media Told not to Interview 'Terrorist Groups'
By Reporters Without Borders

No to AFP Terror Plot on Press Freedom!
By the Alumni of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines

No to State Terror Against Media and the People
By the Independent Media Center-Quezon City




© 2004 Bulatlat  Alipato Publications

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