Malacañang certifies anti-terror bill as urgent

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 1) – The controversial anti-terrorism bill has been certified as urgent by President Rodrigo Duterte to allow Congress to fast-track its approval ​days before sessions end.

President Rodrigo Duterte wrote a letter to House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano on Monday afternoon, saying House Bill 6875 which was approved at the committee level last week must be immediately passed "to address the urgent need to strengthen the law on anti-terrorism" and "effectively contain the menace of terrorist acts."

He added that the bill will help preserve national security and general welfare.

The House of Representatives and Senate will close their regular sessions on June 5, with the last session day often held every Wednesday. Lawmakers will return by late July in time for Duterte's State of the Nation Address.

Being certified as urgent will allow lawmakers to pass the measure on both second and third readings in a day, foregoing the required three-day window between the two votes.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana bared plans to certify the bill as urgent during the noontime media briefing in Malacañang.

Back in February, the Senate approved the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, which seeks to repeal the Human Security Act of 2007 with stronger measures to allow the government to curtail supposed acts of terror. A counterpart measure was approved by two committees in the House last week.

Being certified as urgent will allow lawmakers to pass the measure on both second and third readings in a day, foregoing the required three-day window between the two votes.

The proposed law wants to extend 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. It also removed the provision under the Human Security Act that orders the payment of half a million pesos in damages for each day that a person wrongfully accused of terrorism is detained.

Meanwhile, any person who shall threaten to commit any act of terrorism, propose any terroristic acts or incite others to commit terrorism shall suffer the penalty of 12 years in prison.

Netizens have been calling against the passage of the measure, with the hashtag #JunkTerrorBill trending in the Philippines on Friday.

Senator Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan earlier questioned provisions of the bill that will allow the police and military to conduct a 60-day surveillance on suspected terrorists, and the authority to compel telecommunications firms to disclose their calls and messages, saying this could be used as a tool to silence opposition leaders and critics of the administration.

Cabinet officials maintained there are enough safeguards against the abuse of surveillance power, as some noted that the measure's provisions can be used to silence freedom of speech, activism, and criticisms against the government.

"Ang comment ko lang sa mga umo-oppose dito ay wala namang basehan ang kanilang opposition. Binasa ko ang panukalang batas... 'Yun namang karapatan ng tao ay may sapat na provisions tsaka 'yung mga law enforcement agencies ay may sapat ding kaparusahan sa mga umaabuso [My only comment for those opposing this bill is there's no basis for their opposition. There are ample provisions to protect human rights, while law enforcement agencies will face enough punishments for abuses]," Lorenzana said.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said separately that the bill is necessary to quell terrorist acts not only here but globally.

"Kailangang makapaghanda tayo, very timely na ito para kung bumalik na tayo sa bagong normal, nakahanda na po ang ating mga batas sa pagpapatupad at hindi na po tayo magkaroon ng problema sa terorismo," the official added. "Ito po naman ay para sa kaligtasan ng lahat, pinag-isipang mabuti, at sinisigurado po natin na walang abusong mangyayari."

[Translation: We need to be prepared, this is very timely so that before we return to the new normal, we are prepared to enforce this law and we will not have any more problems. This is for everyone's safety, this was well thought of, and we will ensure that there will be no abuses.]