Rights concerns force House panel to delay adoption of anti-terror bills
MANILA, Philippines – Concerns about possible human rights abuses have forced the House of Representatives’ Committee on Public Order and Safety to postpone the adoption of bills that would amend the Human Security Act of 2007.
During the committee hearing on Tuesday afternoon, several lawmakers from the minority, including resource persons voiced their opposition to the several bills currently filed at the House, and even to the existing Republic Act No. 9372.
Quezon City 6th District Rep. Kit Belmonte questioned several provisions in House Bill No. 551, which implies that a call for an uprising as a terrorist act, given that leftist ideologies tend to lean towards messages of a revolution.
Several leftist organizations have slammed the proposed amendments to the Human Security Act, as they believe it can be used against legitimate dissent by merely tagging critics of the administration as terrorist groups.
“Just a question and a clarification, the Marxist political ideology actually calls for the dissolution of the state and replacing the capitalist system with a socialist, and a communist system. In many cases it calls for armed struggle or a worker’s revolution to overthrow that existing system,” Belmonte said.
“Would that be, following Section 4 […] qualified or classified as a terrorist organization, any group espousing that principle, Mr. Chair?” he asked.
However, Muntinlupa Rep. Rufino Biazon, author of HB 551, clarified that individuals adhering to left-leaning political ideologies would not be targeted by the measure, as its goal is to track terrorists and not political groups.
“As an author, it is not the intention for us to suppress political activity. As an individual legislator that is not the intention of the law. We believe in the freedom of thought, we believe that political ideologies exist and we should be in a way tolerant of the individual groups,” Biazon noted.
“But definitely our intention for this bill is to track down activities by terrorists whose only purpose is to ruin the daily way of life,” he explained.
Due to the lack of time, the committee decided to suspend the hearing, and resume deliberations of the bills on March 10, Tuesday.
The latest bills are drawing criticism for supposedly giving more power to law enforcement agencies, despite reports of abuse sans the proposed amendments. Bagong Alyansang Makabayan’s Renato Reyes even likened the bill’s enactment to gifting Marvel supervillain Thanos the Infinity Stones and Infinity Gauntlet.
In the Senate, Senate Bill No. 1083 has been passed in the third and final reading last Feb. 26. Despite the bill’s strengthening of existing laws, Sen. Panfilo Lacson assured that there would be safeguards to prevent abuse.
However, renowned activists like Bayan Muna’s Neri Colmenares and former St. Scholastica College president Sr. Mary John Mananzan implied that there would be no need to amend the law as the Human Security Act itself was prone to being abused.
According to Mananzan, the Human Security Act does not deter terrorism, and worse, it might even give the state powers to become its own terrorist.
“After all is said and done, I believe that when this bill becomes a law, it will not stop terrorism, and if terrorism leaves and sows fear, we might start another kind of terrorism that is state terrorism,” Mananzan said.
Colmenares meanwhile mentioned in his presentation that several facets of HB 551 and its other counterpart bills might consider opposition to President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration as a terrorist act.
“EDSA People Power was a terrorist act because it will be considered as an attack that ‘endangers’ a person’s life, or it is an attack on critical infrastructure and disrupted military camps, other public services, and transportation for 5 days,” he said during the hearing.
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