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Terror bill in Duterte hands as calls for veto mount

Opponents of the antiterrorism bill may have to wait for up to 30 days before they can take the next legal step against the proposed law, but some of them are appealing to President Duterte to veto the entire measure or parts of it that are deemed unconstitutional.Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said Malacañang on Tuesday received the enrolled copy of the bill signed by both Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and Senate President Vicente Sotto III.

“We have a 30-day period to review, either to veto or to sign the bill. Otherwise, if the President does not act on it, it will become law,” Roque said.

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He assured the public that Malacañang would carefully study the bill’s provisions and officials would advise the President regarding any unconstitutional provisions that would warrant a veto.

The House committees on public order and national security adopted Senate Bill No. 1083, which senators approved in February, as House Bill No. 6875 on May 29. Mr. Duterte certified the proposed law as urgent on June 1. Two days later, the House voted on third and final reading to pass the bill.

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15 days for DOJ review

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the Department of Justice (DOJ) would need about 15 days for its own review of the proposed law.

“As in the past, we shall focus on issues of constitutionality,” he told reporters on Tuesday.

“Should the antiterror bill be enacted into law, the DOJ will endeavor to define more clearly, in the implementing rules and regulations that the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) and the DOJ will be tasked with promulgating, the parameters within which the law will be implemented and enforced, in order to erase any latitude for misapplication or abuse,” Guevarra said.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who sponsored the Senate bill, said the Philippines needed the proposed “stronger” antiterror law to replace the Human Security Act of 2007 to prevent the country from becoming a haven for terrorists.

Because of the weakness in the current law, the country has become the “laboratory” of groups like the Islamic State and the Jemaah Islamiyah, he said.

“Do we want the Philippines to be a safe haven for foreign terrorists?” Lacson said in an interview with dzRH radio. “Our people are being blinded by efforts of the critics to poison their minds, to the point that the information they are saying is inaccurate.”

He noted that in rallies against the bill, the people were protesting against warrantless arrests. But such arrests are currently allowed and in the antiterror bill, authorities are required to report the arrests to the courts and the Commission on Human Rights, Lacson said.

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IBP wary of council

Opponents of the bill had warned that it might be used to curb freedom of expression and silence critics of the government.

One group, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), on Tuesday urged Mr. Duterte to veto its “constitutionally questionable” provisions.

It said the measure gave judicial powers to the ATC, which could order the surveillance or arrest of a suspect and his detention for up to 24 days without charges.

IBP president Domingo Cayosa Jr. said such authority “is exclusively a judicial power” under the 1987 Constitution, while the 14- to 24-day detention without charges violated the three-day preventive detention limit under the Constitution.

“That’s why in our Constitution, there are checks and balances. Law enforcers should not get to decide who can be arrested. That (authority) is given to the judiciary, an independent coequal body,” the IBP president said.

“The IBP will exhaust all avenues, with due respect to everyone and their mandates, to keep the antiterrorism bill within the bounds of our Constitution,” Cayosa said in a statement.

If the President signs the antiterrorism law as it is, “we have no other recourse but to bring to the Supreme Court the constitutional issues that need to be decided,” he said in a television interview.

Other groups plan to take the same legal action.

Mere suspicion

Cayosa said that “in the hands of an abusive government, it is possible” that government critics who make comments on Facebook or join a peaceful rally will be branded as terrorists by the ATC, which is composed of several Cabinet members.

He said the bill criminalized “mere suspicion, mere planning” of terrorist activities as an offense called “inciting to commit terrorism.”

Under the country’s criminal law, mere intention without execution is not considered a crime, he pointed out.

“(Under the antiterrorism law) one can be arrested for guilt by association,” Cayosa said. A member of a group designated as a terrorist organization, even without any involvement in any terrorism plan or activity, may still be arrested and held without charges for up to 24 days, Cayosa said.

‘Hasty transmittal’

ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro urged the President to junk the proposed law.

“We challenge (President Duterte) to veto the antiterror bill, and to instead address and focus on the pressing needs and concerns of the Filipino people amid the COVID-19 crisis,” she said.

Castro noted the “hasty transmittal” of the bill to Malacañang despite the withdrawal of support by a growing number of lawmakers.

Several House members changed their votes from “yes” to “abstain,” while 15 others withdrew as coauthors of the bill.

CBCP body joins clamor

The ecclesial body of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), which coordinates neighborhood-based faith communities in the parishes all over the country, also voiced opposition to the bill as “a deflection or deviation from the life issues,” especially the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The trauma inflicted by the pandemic on the poor and the marginalized is immense and they do not need another law to add to that nor repress their dissatisfaction of what they are going through,” read a statement signed by Malaybalay Bishop Jose Cabantan, chair of the CBCP Basic Ecclesial Community.

He said government efforts must focus on giving priority to the economic recovery of its people, particularly those who lost their jobs.

The proposed antiterrorism law would also undermine the continuing struggle of the indigenous peoples (IPs) and pressing ecological concerns, Cabantan said.

“What the IPs need are laws that will truly respond to their unduly neglected sociocultural concerns like land problems, human rights violations, etc., that continue to cause them social unrest and poverty, and not laws that will further degrade them nor opportunities to use and abuse them,” the bishop said. —WITH REPORTS FROM LEILA B. SALAVERRIA, JULIE M. AURELIO, DONA Z. PAZZIBUGAN, DJ YAP, MELVIN GASCON AND TINA G. SANTOS INQ

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TAGS: Anti-Terrorism Bill, Rodrigo Duterte
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