House passes on second reading new anti-terrorism bill

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 2) — The controversial anti-terrorism bill is one step closer to becoming law, after members of the House of Representatives approved it on second reading.

President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday 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."

The House approved the bill on second reading Tuesday, which essentially adopted the Senate version of the bill that senators passed in February.

House Bill 6875 or the proposed Anti-Terrorism Bill expands the definition of terrorism, while proposing stiffer penalties for terrorists or those found to be helping them.

Under the measure, suspected terrorists can be detained without a warrant of arrest – from three days under the current law to up to 14 days, extendable by another 10 days.

The bill also allows the police and military to conduct a 60-day surveillance on suspected terrorists and compel private firms, among them telcos, to disclose their calls and messages.

Critics and some fellow lawmakers pointed to "vague" and "broad" provisions in the bill, which may later be used to violate human rights.

Quezon City 6th District Representative Jose Christopher Belmonte said they have to be strict with the letter of the law, and they cannot leave it open to interpretation.

"We have to draw the line when puwede na pong pumasok sa individual, civil and political rights dahil vague, broad masyado ang scope ng batas na binibigay natin para sa kanila," Belmonte said. "Puwedeng-puwede ma-abuse ito, not just by state forces but by well meaning politicians."

[Translation: We have to draw the line when individual, civil and political rights are at stake, because of the vague, broad scope of the law that we provided for them. It can be abused, not just by state forces but by well meaning politicians.]

In response, Masbate 1st District Representative Narciso Bravo Jr., who chairs the House Committee on Public Order and Safety, assured that the Commission on Human Rights would be involved to make sure there are no human rights violations. 

"I would agree with my colleague na wala namang batas na perpekto," Bravo said. "Pagtiwalaan nalang po natin yung batas na ito, at ito lamang sa tingin namin ngayon ng mga sponsors ang makapagbibigay ng kaukulang armas sa ating mga law enforcement units upang habulin ang mga terorista sa ating lipunan."

[Translation: I would agree with my colleague that no law is perfect. Let's trust this law, it is the only way that we, with the sponsors, can provide law enforcement units with the tools they need to fight terrorism in the country.]

Muntinlupa City Representative Ruffy Biazon, a primary author of the bill, said the Human Security Act of 2007 is lacking.

"Nagkaroon ng mga provisions na parang natali ang kamay ng law enforcement and at the same time, hindi natin magamit ito, hindi tayo makapagsampa ng kaso gamit ito sa higpit ng ating batas, kaya kinailangan ng adjustment ito," Biazon said.

[Translation: There were provisions that made it seem like the hands of law enforcement was tied, and at the same time, we couldn't use it, we couldn't file a case using it because the law was too strict, so that's why it needs adjustment.]

However, Gabriela party-list Representative Arlene Brosas disagreed, saying the government has all the tools it needs to fight terrorism in the country.

"Sinabi na mismo ng Security Cluster sa committee hearing na wala naging assessment sa pagpapatupad ng Human Security Act, ibig sabihin walang kongkretong batayan para sabihin na kailangan ang panukalang batas na ito," Brosas said.

[Translation: The Security Cluster told the committee hearing that there was no assessment of the implementation of the Human Security Act, meaning there was no concrete basis for saying this bill was needed.]

"The Duterte administration has all the legal tools, resources, and mechanisms to surgically target terrorists and terrorist organizations," Brosas added.

Some lawmakers also expressed concern over who would have the power to determine those who are considered threats to national security, saying it is another provision of the law prone to abuse.

But Senate President Vicente Sotto III earlier said the new anti-terrorism bill is 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.

Netizens have been calling against the passage of the measure, with the hashtag #JunkTerrorBillNow trending in the Philippines on Tuesday, along with the line 'ACTIVISM IS NOT TERRORISM.'