By Charissa Luci-Atienza
ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio has warned his colleagues against amending the country’s anti-terrorism law without consulting human rights groups, civil libertarians, and lawyers’ groups, fearing that it will be used by the Duterte administration to launch crackdown on its critics and opponents.
He issued a stern warning after House committees on public order and safety and national defense and security jointly tackled two measures seeking to amend Republic Act 9372 or the Human Security Act of 2007 last week.
Tackled by the two House panels were House Bill 7141 or “An Act to Secure the State and Protect our People from Terrorism” and House Bill 5507, which seeks to declare as unlawful the membership in any Philippine court-proscribed or United Nations Security Council-designated terrorist organization.
Both were introduced by Pangasinan Rep. Amado Espino Jr.
“The bills are being fast-tracked as part of the priority legislative agenda of President Duterte,” Tinio said.
He claimed that during the two hearings conducted by the two panels, only the law enforcement and national security agencies were invited, with no participation from human rights groups, civil libertarians, lawyers’ groups and other concerned citizens.
He noted that during the congressional break, a technical working group will be convened to come up with a consolidated draft.
“The bills argue that the safeguards against abuse of human rights and civil liberties built into the current anti-terror law have rendered it useless and propose major revisions that will purportedly empower law enforcers in confronting terrorism,” Tinio said.
He said the measures provide for a much broader and less rigorous definition of terrorism; place the military on equal footing with police in law enforcement; allow for proscription of individuals and organizations as terrorists and seizure of assets without trial; and criminalize mere membership or intended membership in proscribed organizations.
The measures also impose the death penalty on certain acts, despite existing treaty obligations prohibiting the Philippine state from doing so; and introduce restrictions on free expression, he said.
Tinio expressed concern that the bills remove safeguards against abuse of surveillance powers granted to law enforcement officials; remove safeguards against abuse of prisoners while in detention; and extend the period of detention without charges under certain circumstances from 3 days to 30 days.
“These bills pose a serious threat to universally recognized and constitutionally guaranteed rights and liberties, including the right to life, liberty, property, privacy, free association, free expression and due process,” he said.
He feared that the bills would provide leeway for the Duterte administration to launch crackdown on its critics and opponents.
“If enacted into law, they will provide the Duterte administration with vastly expanded powers for suppressing dissent and cracking down on critics and opponents in the name of fighting terrorism,” Tinio said.
“We call on all citizens who value and uphold human rights and civil liberties in our society to stand with us in vigorously opposing the passage of these measures,” he said.