DOJ says it's now reviewing constitutionality of anti-terrorism bill

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 6) — The Department of Justice said Saturday it "will already start its own review" of the anti-terrorism bill which has drawn much criticism for constitutionality issues with some of its provisions.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Congress has not yet sent the bill for President Rodrigo Duterte's enactment.

"So our comments have not yet been requested by the Office of the President. Nonetheless, the DOJ will already start its own review of the bill," Guevarra said in a statement.

"The DOJ's task is not to interfere with governmental policy but to determine if the provisions of any enrolled bill are in accordance with the Constitution. I would like to believe that we have consistently and objectively discharged this duty," he added.

The proposed measure, certified by Duterte as urgent, will repeal Human Security Act of 2007 by giving more surveillance powers to government forces. Critics of the measure say it relaxes safeguards on human rights.

One of its contentious provisions is allowing the detention of suspected terrorists for up to 24 days even without a warrant of arrest. Once enacted, law enforcers can conduct surveillance on suspected terrorists for up to 90 days.

Under the current law, detention without warrant of arrest should only be up to three days, while surveillance is up to 30 days only.

House Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate on Saturday called on Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano to not send the proposed new law to Malacañang yet. He's asking for time so more than 100 colleagues who voted for the bill could reconsider their decision and reject it instead.

"We see now that more and more House members are withdrawing or clarifying their votes like Rep. Ruffy Biazon, Rep. Joey Salceda, Rep. Julienne “Jam” Baronda (Iloilo City), Iloilo 2nd District Rep. Michael Gorriceta and Rep. Sol Aragones of Laguna. We hope that more still will withdraw and change their YES votes by writing the Secretary General and the Speaker to register their change of heart," Zarate said in a statement.

As of Thursday, 168 voted for the anti-terrorism bill, 36 voted against, while 29 abstained.

During the last session of Congress before it goes on a two-month break, Cayetano defended the proposed measure, saying it does not penalize activism.

"Bawal po na yung mga nagdidissent lang, o yung mag nagoobject lang o nagrarally o nagppahayag sa gobyerno, bawal po na sila ay turingang terorista," Cayetano said.

[Translation: Those who dissent or object or rally or air their grievances to the government should not be tagged as terrorists.]

The bill exempts advocacy, protest, dissent, stoppage of work, industrial or mass action and other similar execises of civil and political rights, as long as they are not intended to cause death or serious physical harm to a person.

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

Zarate said they are ready to challenge the constitutionality of the measure before the Supreme Court, arguing that it poses threats against progressive groups, who previously experienced "red-tagging" from state forces.

READ: Anti-terrorism bill may immediately be challenged on constitutionality in SC