ANTI-TERROR BILL DISCUSSION. Government officials discuss the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 in a "kapihan" briefing with Marichu Villanueva on Wednesday (June 17, 2020). If enacted into law, the bill would effectively repeal the Human Security Act of 2007. (Photo grabbed from the Kapihan sa Manila Bay at Cafe Adriatico with Marichu Villanueva FB page)

MANILA – The Human Security Act (HSA), a Philippine anti-terrorism measure that took effect in 2007, is a “dead letter law” because it has been “severely underutilized," Senator Panfilo "Ping" Lacson said Wednesday.

During the Kapihan sa Manila Bay virtual press conference, Lacson, one of the principal authors of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, said the proposed measure which has hurdled Congress recently, is a "refill" of the law.

He said the attention of the Philippines has already been called by the United Nations and other neighboring countries and that most of the provisions of the bill have been adopted from the Anti-Terrorism Act of Australia.

National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said the proposed measure is “simply a matter of necessity as the Philippines, in 2019, is the only country from our region that is in the top ten amongst the most impacted by terrorism worldwide”.

Lacson, meanwhile, said there are a number of reasons why he called the HSA a "dead letter law".

"So far, there’s only one conviction, si Nur Supian, yung leader nung (the leader of) rebel Hukbong Federal sa Marawi siege, the lone convicted felon under the Human Security Act and there’s only one prescribed organization, the Abu Sayyaf," he said.

Lacson added that it took the Philippine government ten years before a conviction has been finally meted out, citing that because law enforcement agents are hesitant to file cases under the HSA.

He said data from the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology shows that “out of the 735 suspect or respondents undergoing trial, not one of them is being tried for violation of the HSA."

"Lahat ito (all of these are) murder, illegal possession of firearm, and most of them nahuli ito sa Marawi siege (they were caught during the Marawi siege),” he said.

Lacson said out of 86 Abu Sayyaf members who were tried, 66 were convicted and 20 were acquitted.

Of the 66, none of them has been convicted for violations of the Human Security Act.

Most of them, he said, were convicted of kidnapping.

Constant threat of terrorism

Esperon expressed his solidarity to soldiers and civilians who have been most affected by terrorism in the country, citing families being torn apart as their children are recruited into violent extremism as child combatants.

“Over 1.5 million Filipinos in islands of Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi Tawi are currently living in actual and constant threat of terrorism. In these provinces, there are 63 percent of poverty incidences, proof that they are starving from development,” Esperon said.

In the briefing, National Intelligence Coordinating Agency Director-General Alex Paul Monteagudo enumerated a list of terrorist incidents in the country since the HSA took effect in 2007.

These include the Jolo Cathedral attack in 2019, the Sulu encounter in 2018, Marawi siege in 2017, the Davao City night market bombing in September 2016, the Sawmill kidnapping and beheading in April 2016 when the Maute came out as a supporter of ISIS, and the Zamboanga siege in September 2013.

Monteagudo said these are proofs that “since 2007, since the Human Security Act, the law did not really help us prevent terrorist attacks”.

"It’s important to realize this is happening in our country, not in Iraq, India or Syria but in our country that’s why there is really a need for a stronger anti-terrorism law," he said.

CHR not against the law

Commission on Human Rights Commissioner Gwendolyn Pimentel-Gano, meanwhile, clarified that, they too, are against terrorism and that the agency is not opposing any legislation which protects the country and its people citing the state's obligation to its people.

However, she said there are certain provisions in the bill that should be studied or amended to promote and enhance the rights of citizens.

Gano pointed out the power of the Anti-Terrorism Council “to actually, by authorization alone, arrest suspects and hold them for 24 days at the most, and other provisions that we think infringe on the rights of the individual”.

Lacson immediately said that is not the case.

He said that because of a lot of disinformation campaigns going around, many people misinterpret the bill.

Lacson cited Section 29 of the bill which, he said, even retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio questioned, saying they did not give authority for the ATC to order an arrest, and there is no such thing in the bill.

He said the written authorization is not addressed to the ordinary law enforcers.

Kasi hindi naman tayo nag-amyenda nung Rule 113 Sec. 5 under the Revised Rules of Court. Unang una, hindi namin pwede I amend yun kasi rules of court yun eh, and pwede lang natin i-amend yung provisions ng Revised Penal Code (we cannot amend Rule 113 Section 5 because that is a rule of court. We can only amend the provisions in the Revised Penal Code)," he said.

Lacson said the written authorization in the bill is not intended to allow warrantless arrests simply because allowing it to happen is clearly unconstitutional.

More teeth to the law

Lacson said the proposed measure is based on the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373, a counter-terrorism measure calling on all UN members to criminalize the provision of funds to all terrorists, effectively denying terrorists safe financial haven anywhere.

Lacson said the Philippines is listed under "partially compliant" because of the country's weak response on the issue of terrorist financing.

Dun sa Marawi lang, ilang bilyon yung pumasok na pera dun para pondohan yung Marawi siege. Hindi to na check kasi nga sa kahinaan ng batas. Ngayon nilalagyan natin ng ngipin na kung saan base sa United Nation Security Council Resolution 1373, meron silang panuntunan dito susundin natin yun kung designated na sila ng UN, yung terrorist organization or individual, dun papasok yung ATC para i-designate nila dito sa local scene (Billions of pesos poured in to fund the Marawi siege. This was not checked because of our weak law. Now we are putting more teeth to the law, and this is based on the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373, and the ATC will designate this in the local scene),” Lacson said. (PNA)