Sponsorship Speech for the Anti-Terrorism Act (17th Congress)

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At the outset, let me state here and now with certainty that a vote for the immediate passage of this measure is a vote for the immediate lifting of Martial Law in Mindanao.

Mr. President, fellow members of this august chamber, I have the honor to report on the Senate floor Senate Bill No. 2204 entitled, “An Act Amending Certain Provisions of Republic Act No. 9372, Otherwise Known As “An Act To Secure the State and Protect our People from Terrorism,” as embodied in Committee Report No. 638 in substitution of Senate Bill Numbers 1134, 1396, 1715 and 1956.

Related: Senate Bill 2204: Let Us Toughen the Fight vs Terrorism

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Mr. President, in recent years, terrorism has greatly re-shaped the security landscape in many countries all over the world. There seems to be no immediate end in sight. Instead, the menacing threat of terrorism continues to spread with even more daring and sophisticated means. While other countries have long responded aggressively to protect and safeguard their citizens, our existing laws are neither sufficient nor responsive to the threat. Sadly, we are lacking in our response. While the global trend is starting to stem the tide of deaths and losses due to terrorist attacks, here in the Philippines, it is a different story.

Mr. President, the Global Terrorism Index of 2018 ranked the Philippines as the 10th country most negatively affected by terrorism. It pains me to see the Philippines in the top 10 with countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Syria, Pakistan, and Somalia. In fact, our country experienced the highest negative impact from terrorism among states in the Asia-Pacific region. While other states across the globe are starting to see a downtrend in the number of deaths due to terrorism, we are included in the top 10 countries with the largest increase in deaths from terrorism for 2016 – 2017.

Mr. President, in the case of Marawi alone, government reported the death of 900 Maute-ISIS affiliated fighters, 168 government forces, and 47 civilians. The total damage and lost opportunities cost is estimated by the Philippines’ Task Force Bangon Marawi at P18.23 billion. Said amount does not include the cost of war materiel and other combat service support operations, which was estimated at more than P6 billion. Post-war, the government’s conservative estimate for the cost of Marawi’s rehabilitation is pegged at P72.58 billion. Furthermore, the fighting in Marawi forced out around 72,000 families or 359,000 individuals, many of whom remain displaced to this day.

This is not yet taking into account the lives lost and properties destroyed in the recent twin bombings in Jolo, Sulu.

With every terrorist plot being hatched, every terrorist attack being launched, our response is always the same: Bring in the troops. Mr. President, we rely heavily on military-led, kinetic operations as our primary response to the challenge of terrorism. Even when we know that what we need is a more comprehensive response. Even when we are aware that there has to be an appropriate criminal justice response.

Why, Mr. President? Why do we resort to this?

It is because our country’s existing legislative framework to combat terrorism is a dead letter law. More than a decade ago since the passage of Republic Act No. 9372, otherwise known as the Human Security Act of 2007, the law remains severely underutilized. To illustrate, it took the Basilan Court five long years to finally declare the Abu Sayyaf Group a terrorist or outlawed organization in 2015. Meanwhile, thus far, we only have one order of conviction issued by the RTC of Taguig City, finding accused NUR A. SUPIAN guilty of committing acts falling under Section 3 of the Human Security Act.

Do we not find it ironic, or rather alarming, that with the increasing number of deaths due to terrorism, we only hear of one conviction?

Are we not troubled that when terrorists are captured, they are oftentimes charged with cases for violations of the Revised Penal Code, or illegal possession of firearms, or some other special laws rather than for terrorism? While they could be also held accountable for these crimes, should they not be held accountable for the graver crime of terrorism? One may ask, why is this?

We cannot speak of a criminal justice response to terrorism when this is how terrorism-related cases are handled. Our existing anti-terror law cannot even give our law enforcers and prosecutors a firm foothold to pursue terrorism cases.

Mr. President, we oftentimes overlook the direct implication in the management and handling of suspects of terrorism-related incidents within our penal facilities. As of October 2018, the BJMP reported 735 high-risk persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) incarcerated in their facilities that are alleged members of terrorist organizations. However, they are not in jail for terrorist acts they have perpetrated. They are in jail for other crimes.

Abu Sayyaf members involved in the mass kidnapping of dozens of students, two teachers, and a Catholic priest in Basilan in 2000 provide an illustrative sample. Fifty-two people were kidnapped, mostly young students. The priest was killed and two teachers were even beheaded. The incident could easily be classified as terrorist acts. However, the 86 incarcerated for the crime were charged with kidnapping only. In December 2018, 66 of them were found guilty of kidnapping while 20 were acquitted.

Mr. President, reports even say that the suspects of the recent Jolo suicide bombings are set to face multiple murder and frustrated murder charges for the deaths and injuries caused by said bombings when this is clearly a terrorist act.

This has to stop, Mr. President. We do not need to wait for another Marawi siege, or another suicide bombing of the Mount Carmel Cathedral in Jolo, Sulu to happen before we act on this. The danger is here, present in our midst. This is why this representation is sponsoring today an Anti-Terrorism bill that seeks to address the evident infirmities of the Human Security Act of 2007.

Mr. President, distinguished colleagues, I beg your indulgence as I enumerate the highlights of our proposed amendments:

1. The change of the title from “Human Security Act of 2007” to “Anti-Terrorism Act of 2019”

Mr. President, human security is a vast concept with a scope that is beyond the contents of the law we are amending. It covers by way of example environmental, food, economic and health security, to name a few. With that, we changed the short title to have a clear overview of what the law is at first glance: an instrument to prevent or counter terrorism.

2. Modification of Section 4 defining “terrorist act”

Before and even long after the enactment of the law, it has been criticized over and over for its apparent vagueness, which runs counter to the principle of the legality of offenses.

Mr. President, your Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs has decided to do away with the predicate crimes enumerated in the law and just define a terrorist act as:

ANY OF THE FOLLOWING UNLAWFUL ACTS, REGARDLESS OF ITS STAGE OF EXECUTION, WHICH MAY INTIMIDATE, PUT IN FEAR, FORCE OR INDUCE THE GOVERNMENT OR ANY INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATION, OR THE PUBLIC TO DO OR TO ABSTAIN FROM DOING ANY ACT, OR SERIOUSLY DESTABILIZE OR DESTROY THE FUNDAMENTAL POLITICAL, ECONOMIC OR SOCIAL STRUCTURES OF THE COUNTRY, OR CREATE A PUBLIC EMERGENCY OR UNDERMINE PUBLIC SAFETY:

A. ATTACKS THAT CAUSE DEATH OR SERIOUS BODILY INJURY TO ANY PERSON;

B. ATTACKS THAT CAUSE EXTENSIVE DAMAGE OR DESTRUCTION TO A GOVERNMENT OR PUBLIC FACILITY, CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE, PUBLIC PLACE OR PRIVATE PROPERTY LIKELY TO ENDANGER HUMAN LIFE OR RESULT IN MAJOR ECONOMIC LOSS;

C. MANUFACTURE, POSSESSION, ACQUISITION, TRANSPORT, SUPPLY OR USE OF WEAPONS, EXPLOSIVES OR OF BIOLOGICAL OR CHEMICAL WEAPONS, AS WELL AS RESEARCH INTO, AND DEVELOPMENT OF, BIOLOGICAL AND CHEMICAL WEAPONS;

D. RELEASE OF DANGEROUS SUBSTANCES, OR CAUSING FIRES, FLOODS OR EXPLOSIONS THE EFFECT OF WHICH IS TO ENDANGER HUMAN LIFE; THREAT TO COMMIT ANY OF THE ACTS LISTED IN PARAGRAPHS (A) TO (D) OF THIS SECTION.

3. To deter participation even at the initial stages of plotting, your Committee has introduced new sections providing penalties for the following acts:

a. Planning, preparing and facilitating the commission of a terrorist act;
b. Attempt to commit, proposal to commit and inciting to commit terrorist acts;
c. Recruitment to participate, join, commit or support any terrorist act or membership in a terrorist group, association or organization proscribed in accordance with this Act;
d. Terrorism by foreign nationals; and
e. Providing material support to terrorists.

Mr. President, to give our law enforcement authorities more teeth in fighting their adversaries in this war against terror, we likewise propose the following:

4. Surveillance

With respect to authorization to conduct surveillance previously vested only with the Court of Appeals (CA), Mr. President, the application for Judicial Authorization to conduct surveillance can now be made also with the Regional Trial Court. This amendment is made for the purpose of convenience and expediency granting that time is of the essence when it comes to impending threats of terrorism.

On the mode of surveillance, we took into consideration this Committee’s proposed amendment to the antiquated Anti-Wiretapping Act for purpose of consistency. Said surveillance-related amendments now cover various means of doing so using the technology available today and those that will hereafter be known to science and the various forms of communications that may be the subject thereof.

Mr. President, to further strengthen the surveillance capabilities of our law enforcement authorities and to ensure the cooperation and active participation of the telecommunication companies, in the event of actual or imminent terrorist attack, this proposed legislation authorizes the Anti-Terrorism Council to file an ex-parte application with the RTC for an order to compel telecom and internet service providers to produce all customer information and identification records, as well as call and text data records and other cellular or internet metadata of persons suspected of committing said actual or imminent attack, with notice to the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to ensure compliance. Once again, with the risk of being repetitive, let me emphasize that this provision will only be operative if a terrorist attack is actual or imminent.

Finally, Mr. President, we are also proposing for the extension of the effectivity period of the Judicial Authorization to sixty (60) days, which may be extended for another thirty (30) days if the issuing court is satisfied that such extension is in the public interest.

5. Proscription of terrorist organizations, associations, or group of persons

Mr. President, as previously discussed, one of the weaknesses of our law is the lack of urgency in proscribing terrorist groups, associations or organizations. Remember that the proscription of the Abu Sayyaf Group was our country’s first and only. Not to mention that the petition languished for five years in the court docket. To remedy this, we are now requiring that verified applications filed with the court shall include an urgent prayer for the issuance of a preliminary order of proscription. Said order shall be issued within seventy-two (72) hours if the application is sufficient in form and substance, and the court finds probable cause for declaring the respondent a terrorist or outlawed organization or association.

Further, we are proposing to limit the period within which to make the proscription either permanent or to totally set it aside to only six months from the time the application for proscription is filed in court.

6. The extension of the period of detention of a person suspected of committing terrorist acts or members of declared terrorist organizations without judicial warrant of arrest.

Mr. President, under the present law, a person arrested for violation of the provisions of the Human Security Law can be detained for three days without charge, with no liability on the part of the arresting officer under Article 125 of the Revised Penal Code. In the proposed measure, we are proposing a 14-working day period of detention without extension.

The proposal to extend the period of detention was reached after a lengthy review of our neighboring countries’ policies and laws for countering terrorism. To name a few figures currently adopted by other jurisdictions, let me state:

Indonesia: 21 days, extendible for up to 200 days
Malaysia: 60 days, extendible for up to 2 years
Singapore: indefinite period of detention

Mr. President, the proposed extended period of detention shall only be allowed when necessity has been established. Further, we also made sure that the judiciary plays a role in the event of detention. Upon taking custody, the judge of the court nearest the place of apprehension or arrest shall be notified in writing of the following facts:

1. The time, date, and manner of arrest;
2. The location of the detained suspect; and
3. The physical and mental condition of the detained suspect.

The detaining facility is mandated to ensure that the suspect is informed of his/her rights as a detainee. Counsel’s access to the detainee shall also be ensured, as well as that of entities authorized by law to exercise visitorial powers over detention facilities.

Lastly,

7. The removal of the unconscionable amount of P500,000 per day of incarceration to be awarded to the suspect for unproven charge of terrorism

Mr. President, for law enforcement authorities to utilize the provisions of this Act to its full extent, we are proposing to delete the provision mandating the payment of P500,000 per day of incarceration the moment he/she is acquitted of the charge of terrorism. This is under Section 50 of RA 9372.

Mr. President, this has been the Sword of Damocles that hangs over the heads of our law enforcement authorities and one of the reasons why they cannot enforce the law to its full extent. By removing this, we hope that our law enforcement authorities will now have the courage to fully execute the provisions of the law without fear of being slapped with this exorbitant fine.

Mr. President, it does not mean however that by deleting this provision, those unlawfully charged with violation of this law will not have any recourse in case he/she will be acquitted. In the event of an acquittal, the person illegally charged can always sue for damages under existing laws.

I can anticipate that the human rights advocates will severely criticize this measure in order to provoke the people against the passage of the same. Well and good. We are prepared to justify by presenting facts and the clear and present danger among innocent and clueless bystanders whose only mistake is being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Mr. President, due to the evils of terrorism sought to be avoided, there is an imperative need to impose justifiable limitations on the rights of some people, suspected of plotting and actually committing terrorist acts. This is the tough reality. But let me over-emphasize that there are corresponding safeguards to avoid the threat of abuse. Every intrusion calls for checks from the judiciary. Further, lengthy imprisonment penalties are provided to deter exploitation of the law.

Mr. President, I hope we all agree to have a similar perspective on this measure and look at it as containing necessary permissible intrusions with built-in mechanisms to limit the same in regard to human rights.

As per consultation with the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Department of National Defense during the briefing for the extension of Martial Law for another year, a statement was made that the Martial Law in Mindanao will be lifted once an effective Anti-Terrorism Law is passed by Congress.

To those of our colleagues who voted against and continue to oppose Martial Law in Mindanao, let me say this: As I said before, a vote for the immediate passage of this measure means a vote for the immediate lifting of Martial Law in Mindanao.

It is undeniable that terrorism places lives and properties in peril. Aside from violating rights enshrined under our Constitution, it also runs counter to the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which declares, “Every human being has the inherent right to life and that everyone has the right to liberty and security.” They collectively form part of human rights.

Mr. President, terrorism violates human rights. The involvement of human rights triggers the obligation of the state to protect its people from threats or acts of terrorism.

Mr. President, we have already tried various approaches such as peace talks, peace agreements, and even the grant of autonomy. Yet just a few days ago, we had bombing incidents and armed conflict in Mindanao. On the part of the legislative, numerous resolutions were filed condemning such acts of terrorism. But resolutions are not enough, Mr. President. The value of the lives lost and the lives that are still at risk is far more than that. Why condemn if we could act? Let us toughen the fight against terrorism. Let us combat terrorism and pass the Anti-Terror Act to ensure freedom not only from acts of terrorism but also from threats of terrorism.

Thank you, Mr. President.

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