By Mario Casayuran
The 24-member Senate approved last Wednesday on second reading a bill providing for a clear, concise, balanced, and rational anti-terrorism law that adheres to regional and international standards.
Senate Bill (SB) No. 1083, the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, includes a new section on foreign terrorist fighters to cover Filipinos nationals who commit terrorist offenses abroad.
The bill was sponsored by Sen. Panfilo M. Lacson, chairman of the Senate national defense and security committee. Lacson is a former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief.
The bill also effectively repeals the Human Security Act of 2007.
“With (SB 1083), we can be sure that whether the terroristic act is committed here or abroad, the perpetrator shall be within the arms of the law once he or she comes to our country,” Lacson said.
Lacson emphasized that the existing Human Security Act did virtually nothing to deter participation in the plotting of terroristic acts.
SB 1083 introduced provisions penalizing those who will propose, incite, conspire, participate in the planning, training, preparation, and facilitation of a terrorist act; as well as those who will provide material support to terrorists, and recruit members in a terrorist organization.
“As a responsible member of the community of nations, we are duty-bound to improve our laws to ensure that we can implement UN Security Council Resolutions, meet international standards, and fulfill state obligations with the United Nations,” Lacson said.
The measure not only establishes Philippine jurisdiction over Filipino nationals who may join and fight with terrorist organizations outside the Philippines, but also ensures that foreign terrorists do not use the country as a transit point or a safe haven to plan and train new recruits for terrorist attacks in other countries.
“We send a strong message to them: You are not welcome here. If you dare set foot in our country, you will be dealt with the full power of our laws,” Lacson said, adding that the penalty of life imprisonment without the benefit of parole will be meted out to them.
The bill also removed the provision on payment of P500,000 damages per day of detention of any person acquitted of terrorism charges. But the number of days a suspected person can be detained without a warrant of arrest is 14 calendar days, extendible by 10 days.
Lacson gave the assurance that there are enough safeguards against possible abuses by arresting officers, and that amendments were crafted to ensure that the rights and wellbeing of the accused individuals or suspected terrorists inside jail facilities are protected.
A new provision, designating certain regional trial courts (RTCs) as Anti-Terror Courts, was also introduced to ensure the speedy disposition of cases.
Also, the use of videoconferencing for the accused and witnesses to remotely appear and testify will be allowed under the measure.
The amendments also provide for the police or the military to conduct a 60-day surveillance on suspected terrorists, which may be lengthened to another non-extendable period of 30 days, provided they secure a judicial authorization from the Court of Appeals (CA).
Any law enforcement or military personnel found to have violated the rights of the accused persons shall be penalized with imprisonment of 10 years, the senator said.
To allay concerns of possible excesses by the authorities, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) shall be notified in case of the detention of a suspected terrorist.
The measure also mandates the CHR to give the highest priority to the investigation and prosecution of violations of the civil and political rights of persons, and shall have the concurrent jurisdiction to prosecute public officials, law enforcers, and other persons who may have violated the civil and political rights of suspects and detained persons.