By Jun Ledesma

Why we need a stringent anti-terrorism law

ALL these sound and fury against the Anti-Terrorism Bill should be weighed against the realities on the ground. The din and the incendiary speeches veer us away from what is happening in our country and around us. Our approach to deterring terrorism and those abetting and goading terrorism is too weak the Philippines has become a veritable spawning ground and haven for terrorists. Our school campuses no longer breed scholars and topnotch students but have instead become a spawning ground for ideological mongrels. The students rally and cry for freedom, democracy, human rights, and an end to violence and yet supports the armed revolutionary movement that stifles these all.

Let’s visit our next-door neighbors and other countries and see how they deal with terrorism.

Indonesia, the largest Muslim-populated nation in the world has a counter-terrorism law that allows for extended pre-charge and pre-trial detention”. Police authorities can detain terrorist suspects without charge from three days to a maximum of 21 days. Furthermore, prosecutors may extend pretrial detention for terrorism suspects from 180 days to 240 days.

Malaysia imposes severe penalties, including up to 20 years' imprisonment for "aggravated" sedition as well as provisions for travel bans. Some human rights groups protest shortcomings in the law were provisions which can be subject to indefinite detention of individuals without trial and grant sweeping powers to law enforcement authorities.

In Singapore, a law gives the police special powers during terrorist attacks, including widely “banning journalists and members of the public from reporting on the scene”. Police authorities have the power to block all communications on-site, ranging from photographs to videos, text, and audio messages, for up to a month if authorities feel security operations could be compromised. The law was passed on the heels of “ terrorism threat, posed by home-grown radicalized individuals and foreign terrorists.”

Individuals who taunt the law face a maximum sentence of two years in prison and a fine of 20,000 Singapore dollars (US$14,891).

Italy’s counterterrorism law allows for 24 hours that a suspect may be held prior to being charged. The “detention does not require any prior judicial authorization and persons detained under these provisions are not entitled to access legal counsel”.

In the UK, detention can run to 90-day detention for terrorism suspects while in Japan suspects undergo probe without a lawyer present. The subject may be held up to 23 days per possible charge without the possibility of bail. If you think that is not enough state prosecutors can add charges to prolong the detention.

In India, a judge may double pre-charge detention from the 90 days allowed under the Indian criminal code to 180 days upon a special request from a prosecutor.

Saudi Arabia allows investigators of the Interior Ministry to order up to 120 days of incommunicado detention of terrorism suspects, and a court may extend that period indefinitely.

Now, look at Australia. It’s Security Intelligence Organisation may, with the concurrence of the attorney general and an authorized judge, detain a person for up to one week without charge for the purpose of collecting intelligence about a terrorist offense.

The United States, a country that preaches adherence to human rights whose President once warned Pres. Rodrigo Duterte of human rights violation can hold a terrorist suspect for indefinite detention without trial for suspected terrorists. A victim of savage terrorism that hit New York City, the center of its global economic supremacy, the US is not sparing in unleashing its armed forces to deal with terrorist groups within and outside its territory.

As I write this piece, an avalanche of coordinated campaigns calling for the rejection of the anti-terrorism bill has reached every nook and corner of the country. Fake Facebook accounts are created by desperate individuals and groups in brazen attempts to create numbers of opposition to bar the passage of the bill. A UP Los Banos activists invented his/her own threats but were easily unmasked for using the same mobile phone used in posting the threat and his stand against the ATB.

I am appalled by the bold display of students who join the ranks of professional street demonstrators, the legal fronts of the communists who dare everyone to join the New Peoples Army. And yet they complain of “red-tagging”.

The Philippine law against terrorism is so feeble this lures terrorist organizations to relocate within our territory. It is too soft and ambiguous it encourages campus radicalism and adventurism in joining the home-grown terrorist organization. Have we ever stopped to wonder why the Maute-ISIS terrorists planted the seeds of extremism in what was once a beautiful Islamic City of Marawi? For years, under an equally weakling Pres. Benigno Simeon Aquino III the Mautes were able to nurture the ISIS terror cells until Pres. Rodrigo Duterte dealt it with to the finish.

Have we stopped to think why Jemaah Islamiya easily moved around the separatist organizations and taught the extremists how to make bombs and carry on bombing operations in soft civilian targets?

Have the protesting students and Bayan’s street barker Renato Reyes ever paused to ponder why the Abu Sayyaf Guerillas operate in the island provinces of Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, and Basilan? Or, how come Satur Ocampo with ACT representatives would trek to the hinterlands of Talaingod, Davao del Norte and inveigle children of indigenous tribes to take part in a strange school curriculum that is so distinct from what is taught in other schools? Why, instead of teaching children basic vocational subjects, they are taught instead of how to dismantle an M-16 rifle?

Why terror groups love it here in the Philippines is simply on account of the strictness of the anti-terror laws that are enforced by other countries around us. Let us not fool ourselves into believing that the Anti-Terrorism Bill will infringe on our freedom of speech to criticize and call for the ouster of any sitting President for after all the likes of Duterte have kind tolerance for those childish habits. I neither think the movement will be limited nor the right to assemble be denied.

Here in Davao City, we even have a freedom park where you can render your oratory and display your placards. The non-government organizations love it here. They get free live TV coverage and front-page news the following day. With the Anti-Terrorism Law, there is absolutely nothing that would curtail freedom and dissent only this time don’t ever dare campaign for and to join a terrorist group or use the video clips and news clippings to seek funds from donor foundations to fund terror cells. Somebody will be watching.



About the Columnist

Image of Jun Ledesma

Mr. Jun Ledesma is a community journalist who writes from Davao City and comments from the perspective of a Mindanaoan.