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Hours after anti-terror bill passes, vote explanations pour in

Legislators from the Visayas on Thursday (June 4) continued explaining their votes for and against the anti-terror measure passed by the House of Representatives on Wednesday (June 3) in a sign of the growing controversy that the proposed law now finds itself in.

Some of the legislators who opposed the measure said they voted “no” because the bill was being rushed and many members of the House didn’t get a chance to speak.

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The pile of comments now being thrown at the measure, both pro and against, is getting bigger, though.

In Cebu, six of 10 congressmen representing the province’s districts voted for the bill with one saying he shared concerns over the measure’s human rights implications but voted for it just the same.

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One of the Cebuano legislators abstained from voting on the measure, House Bill No. 6875, while three others haven’t made public how they voted.

Pro and con

Rep. Raul del Mar, of Cebu City’s north district, said he voted for the new anti-terror measure because he found the current law, Human Security Act of 2007, insufficient in addressing terrorism because of so many restrictions against the police and military.

“I believe that the flaws of the Human Security Act must be corrected now,” he said in a statement.

But Del Mar admitted also that he shared concerns over the human rights implications of the measure with its critics.

“The bill allows warrantless arrests and longer detention without charges,” Del Mar said.

He pointed to a provision in the measure that would keep suspects detained for 24 days without charges as one of the concerns.

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“As a lawyers’ group put it, it allows prolonged detention on the mere inkling of involvement and engagement in indefinable acts of terrorism,” said Del Mar.

He said the new measure’s provision on warrantless arrests and prolonged detention could “remedy a current defect” in the existing anti-terror law which allowed suspects to be detained only for up to 36 hours.

Del Mar said the brief detention periods make for “an arduous ordeal for police and military investigators” but prolonging it “may also open a huge door for abuse.”

“The provision also flirts with the question of constitutionality because of the Constitution’s fixed maximum period of three days even when the writ of habeas corpus is suspended,” he added.

Del Mar said an Anti-Terror Council (ATC) composed of top Cabinet officials will perform functions otherwise reserved for courts, like ordering the arrest of terror suspects.

The new measure, he added, also junked a requirement that suspects be presented to judges for examination if the suspects had been tortured.

New crimes

New crimes had been defined, too, said Del Mar. These included proposing or threatening to commit terrorism; planning, training or facilitating terrorism and inciting to terrorism.

“The latter crime may be committed through speeches, proclamations, writings, emblems, banners,” said Del Mar.

These, he added, risk “possible collision with free speech and free press.”

Despite the reservations, Del Mar still voted “yes” to the anti-terrorism measure.

He said he did so “trusting the assurance of our colleagues” that the new law would not be “used to suppress legitimate acts of dissent” branded as acts of terrorism.

He said he was also “confident that present and future Congress will exercise its inherent power of oversight if, Heaven forbid, this law will be used to oppress our fellow Filipinos.”

He added that he hoped officials—military, police or civilian–who would sit in the Anti-Terrorism Council will not abuse their powers.

Badly needed?

Rep. Pablo John Garcia, of Cebu’s third district, said he supported the measure because the country needed it badly.

“We need a new anti-terrorism act more responsive to the changing times and the changing tactics of terrorists,” he said.

“Why now? Because we cannot wait for disaster to strike before we pass a law to sufficiently arm our law enforcement officials against the ever-present threat,” he said in a post on Facebook.

Garcia said while there was apprehension that the measure would be used to violate human rights, half of its provisions were actually about penalties against those who would abuse the law and violate rights.

“Some quarters have raised the possibility of abuse. I urge them to read the bill,” said Garcia.

“It even mandates the Commission on Human Rights to give the highest priority to investigating and prosecuting abuse of the law and violation of the rights of suspects,” Garcia added.

He said there was no room in the law to change the definition of terrorism to include legitimate dissent and criticism of government because “not only does the law sufficiently define what terrorism is, but the definition of terrorism is settled in jurisprudence.”

Echoes

Rep. Peter John Calderon, of Cebu’s seventh district, shared the sentiment.

“I have to support the bill because we cannot afford another Marawi,” he said, referring to the five-month-long war in Marawi City in 2017 on Islamic State forces out to establish a caliphate in the country’s only Muslim city.

“The bill has its own safeguards that will prevent violation of human rights,” he added.

Rep. Janice Salimbangon, of Cebu’s fourth district, said she voted “yes” because she is totally against   terrorism.

“Our country cannot afford chaos and must be at all times peaceful,” said Salimbangon.

“There is no place for terrorist in a democratic country like ours. Nowhere in this world can progress be attained in an atmosphere of violence,” she said in a text message.

Rep. Paz Radaza, of Lapu-Lapu City’s lone district, said she also voted for the anti-terror bill because it was what the country needed.

“We need a very strong measure, with equally strong check and control mechanism, against terrorism which may strike anytime even during pandemic and other crisis,” she said.

Confidence

Rep. Emmarie “Lolypop” Ouano-Dizon, of Cebu’s sixth district, said she’s confident that the bill has provisions against abuse by law enforcers.

“I voted yes to the bill because terrorism knows no rules,” she said.

“If we read the contents of the bill, all the needed safeguards and checks and balances are enumerated,” she added.

Representatives Eduardo Gullas, of the first district, Wilfredo Caminero, of the second district, and Vincent Franco Frasco, of the fifth district, could not be reached for comment.

Abstain from rushing

Rep. Rodrigo Abellanosa, of Cebu City’s south district, abstained from voting, saying there was too little time to discuss the bill.

“My policy as district representative is to always listen to my constituents while maintaining independence from House blocs,” Abellanosa said.

He said, though, that he felt the bill was “unreasonably rushed.”

“Everybody was caught flat-footed,” he said in a text message.

Ilonggo vote

In Iloilo, Rep. Lorenz Defensor said he voted against the bill because it violated the Constitution and would open up abuses against people’s rights.

“I understand that the fight against terrorism must be intensified,” Defensor said in an interview over Bombo Radyo Iloilo on Thursday. “But we should not compromise the rights of people by mere suspicion,” he said.

“There are groups of people who express their criticism against government not because they are terrorists but because of poverty, hunger, abuses of government and corruption in government,” Defensor said.

Aside from Defensor, Representatives Loren Legarda (Antique) and Janette Garin (Iloilo) also voted against the bill which has been certified urgent by President Rodrigo Duterte.

Legarda said she was surprised that she was listed as among the principal authors of the bill and had asked the House secretariat to remove her name from the controversial measure.

Garin said she voted against the bill because her proposed amendments were rejected.

Capiz Rep. Emmanuel Billones said he voted for the bill “with reservations.”

Aklan Rep. Carlito Marquez said he abstained from voting because there were provisions that were “not clear” to him.

How Representatives Fredenil Castro (Capiz), Ma. Lucille Nava (Guimaras) and Teodorico Haresco (Aklan) voted was unclear.

Representatives Julienne Baronda (Iloilo City) and Michael Gorriceta (Iloilo) also asked that their names to be removed as authors although both voted for the bill along with Iloilo Representatives Raul Tupas and Braeden John Biron.

“I am solely against criticism and not for curtailing civil liberties,” Biron said in a statement explaining his support for the bill.

“If there are provisions in the bill that run counter to to the fundamental law of the land, I am confident that these shall be struck (sic) down by the Supreme Court,” he added.

Defensor said the bill is flawed and ran counter to the Constitution from the start.

He cited the provision allowing the arrest of suspected terrorists or those committing terrorist acts based on a written authority issued by the ATC, whose members would be appointed by the President.

Presidential discretion

“I do not want to leave to the discretion of any President (who should be arrested),” Defensor said. “The courts should be the one to decide,” he added.

“If government is doing nothing wrong, it should not be afraid of the people,” Defensor said.

In Negros Occidental, Rep. Jose Francisco Benitez voted against the bill, saying it would be difficult to protect constitutional rights if the state’s powers were expanded.

“This erosion of rights will cause precedence and institutional legacies that may reverse our democratic processes whoever might eventually be in power,” Benitez said.

A total of 173 members of the House voted for the bill while only 31 opposed it. At least 29 abstained from voting.

Benitez said the bill passed without legislators being able to express their apprehensions.

“Because there was not enough time for deliberations to refine it, I felt compelled to vote no,” he said.

The other House members in Negros Occidental have yet to disclose how they voted.

Edited by TSB
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TAGS: apprehension, Congress, Constitution, Crimes, criticism, dissent, Human rights, Legislation, Terrorism, unconstitutional
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