Sotto: Anti-terrorism bill 'good as passed'

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 2) — The controversial anti-terrorism bill is as "good as passed," Senate President Vicente Sotto III said Tuesday, a day after President Rodrigo Duterte certified the measure as urgent.

"It's as good as passed. It will just need my signature if it comes back to us after ratification then I will transmit to the President," Sotto said in a text message when asked how Congress will fast-track the approval of the measure.

On Monday, Duterte wrote a letter to House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano saying House Bill 6875 must be immediately passed "to address the urgent need to strengthen the law on anti-terrorism" and "effectively contain the menace of terrorist acts."

Senate Bill 1083 or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2019, which seeks to "preserve national security and general welfare" was so far approved at the House committee level last week.

The Senate approved the bill in February.

Various groups and rights advocates have raised concerns against the measure, citing amendments that they said authorize violations of basic human rights in the country.

The measure repeals the Human Security Act of 2007 by giving more surveillance powers to the military and police.

It imposes 12 years of jail time to any person who shall threaten to commit any act of terrorism, propose any such acts or incite others to commit terrorism.

Life imprisonment may also be imposed on those who will facilitate terrorist acts or recruit people to terror groups.

The bill also allows surveillance activities such as tracking down individuals or organizations, wire-tapping and recording of discussions and other communications of individuals supposedly engaged in terrorism.

It seeks to extend too the number of days suspected terrorists can be detained without a warrant of arrest – from three days under the current law to up to 14 days.

Sotto, however, allayed fears that the measure can be used against critics and members of the opposition.

"I suggest they read the bill first before reacting. Terrorists or their supporters are the only ones who will be afraid of the bill," he said.

Senator Panfilo Lacson also said that there are "enough safeguards" surrounding the measure.

"The concerns being raised by the progressive and leftist groups as well as human rights advocates have been adequately addressed during the Committee on National Defense and Security public hearings, as well as the debates and interpellations in plenary," he said in a statement.

Lacson noted that once the House approves the adopted Senate version of the measure on third and final reading, it will be transmitted to them for enrollment. This will then be submitted to the President for his signature.

"Since it is a certified urgent measure, the three-day rule restriction as required under the Constitution is lifted. That gives the bill a chance to be enacted into law within 30 days unless vetoed by the President, which is very unlikely considering the certification that he issued," Lacson added.

Meanwhile, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque insisted that there are no "Draconian provisions" in the measure, which were mostly based on the rules of other countries.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros, one of the lawmakers who voted against the bill, reiterated that the public's concerns are valid, and that the measure should not be prioritized in the middle of the pandemic.

"Ang hiling nila (ng publiko) ay maayos na programa para sa kanilang kaligtasan laban sa kinakaharap nating pandemic," she said. "Hindi ba dapat nandoon ang prayoridad natin?"

[Translation: The public is only asking for an efficient government program intended for their safety while we are facing this pandemic. Shouldn't that be our priority?]

Congress is scheduled to adjourn sine die on June 5, but a lawmaker has filed a resolution to extend sessions until June 11 to pave way for the approval of all "vital bills."

CNN Philippines' Glee Jalea and Joyce Ilas contributed to this report.