House OKs on final reading controversial anti-terrorism bill

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 3) - The House of Representatives approved on third and final reading the controversial anti-terrorism bill that was certified as urgent by the President.

With 173 affirmative votes, 31 negative, and 29 abstention, House Bill 6875 or the Anti-Terrorism Bill repeals the Human Security Act of 2007 by giving more surveillance powers to the government forces.

The Senate already approved its own version of the bill in February.

The anti-terror bill defines terrorism as anyone who participates in any activities which endangers a person’s life, causes damage or destruction to a government facility or private property, develops or possesses explosive devices or weapons, and releases any weapons of destruction.

However, the bill stipulates that “legitimate exercises of the freedom of expression and to peaceably assemble, where a person does not have the intention to use or urge the use of force or violence,” are not covered by the measure.

It also penalizes recruitment to any terrorist organizations as well as providing material support to terrorists.

The police and the military can now track down suspected individuals or organizations and record discussions or communications supposedly regarding terrorism.

Moreover, suspected terrorists can be detained without a warrant of arrest to up to 14 days.

Anyone who threatens to commit terrorism, perform, or incite others to do any such act will be penalized with an imprisonment of 12 years.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said that the bill is “good as passed” as it only needs his signature after ratification before submitting it to President Rodrigo Duterte.

Prone to abuse by state

For her part, Vice President Leni Robredo said the anti-terror bill has provisions that may be misinterpreted or abused by the government. Hence, the enactment of the measure should not be rushed, she said.

“Walang puwang ang karahasan o terorismo sa lipunan," said Robredo in a statement. "Kung gagawa ng isa pang batas dagdag sa mga existing laws na mayroon na ngayon, pinakamainam kung magagawa ito nang masinop at kung malilinaw ang bawat probisyon.”

[Translation: Violence and terrorism have no place in our society. If we will craft a new law in addition to the existing ones, it would be better if it will be crafted well and the provisions are clear.]

“Hindi ito pwede madaliin; kailangang mapakinggan ang iba’t-ibang tining sa pagpapanday ng batas. Lalo na dahil maraming mga probisyon na maaring ma-misinterpret o maabuso,” she added.

[Translation: We should not rush this; all sides must be heard in creating a law, especially when many provisions could be misinterpreted o abused.]

Meanwhile, former Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno said people must be provided answers to their questions regarding the measure.

"Our people need to hear our lawmakers ask the most important questions about our survival as a nation and the future of our freedoms under the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020," she said.

She added that the government should not be a hindrance to everyone’s freedom to express themselves especially in social media.

“When Filipinos vent their frustration in the only way they can go through social media, government should be careful not to repress the human spirit that must always find a way to express itself,” she stressed.