Anti-Terrorism Council won't be 'sole arbiter' in tagging, arresting suspected terrorists – Lacson

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 24) — It is incorrect to say that the anti-terrorism bill gives the Anti-Terrorism Council the power to tag terrorists and order the surveillance and arrest of suspects, Senator Panfilo "Ping" Lacson said Wednesday.

Lacson, principal sponsor and one of the authors of the controversial bill, said the highly contested Section 29 of the measure does not grant the council the authority to order an arrest.

It only gives selected law enforcers the authority to conduct "custodial investigation," he said.

"Not all police officers are trained interrogators and investigators, especially involving a crime as complex and complicated as an act of terrorism. These specially trained law enforcement officers and military personnel shall need a written authority to be deputized by the ATC to perform such tasks," Lacson said during a webinar hosted by the Management Association of the Philippines.

When asked if the bill should be more clearly worded to explain this, Lacson said that once the law is passed, the implementing rules and regulations would "fine-tune" certain provisions.

READ: Biazon says anti-terrorism bill needs rewording: court, not Cabinet, must identify terrorists

"Another misinformation is the proposition that the Anti-Terrorism Council shall be the sole arbiter in determining 'terrorists' based on their assessment of 'suspicious' activities like the expression of dissent against the government," Lacson said.

He said it will still be the Court of Appeals that will allow the conduct of electronic and technical surveillance of suspected terrorists.

"The only duty of the Anti-Terrorism Council in this regard is to authorize a law enforcement agent or military personnel to file an ex-parte application with the Court of Appeals to conduct electronic and technical surveillance of suspected terrorist groups or individuals," he said.

Critics say the measure relaxes safeguards on human rights and is open to abuse, but Lacson said it would go after violators and would even require reporting to the Commission on Human Rights.

Senior Associate Justice Antonio Caprio said the constitutionality of the measure can be challenged immediately at the Supreme Court the moment it is signed into law by President Rodrigo Duterte.

READ: Anti-terrorism bill still under review by legal team, says Duterte