Sen. Panfilo M. Lacson on Tuesday rectified the misconceptions of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines about the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, as he maintained the measure aims to combat terrorism in a “swift, effective and constitutional” manner.
In a letter-reply to IBP president Domingo Egon Q. Cayosa, Lacson addressed the IBP’s concerns about parts of the bill, including the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC).
“The Anti-Terrorism Bill speaks clear of our swift, effective, and constitutional policy against these acts of terror and against no one else but its perpetrators,” he said.
Lacson, in his letter-reply, pointed out that:
* Arrests cannot be made based on mere suspicion alone.
Lacson said the legislative intent was to allow warrantless arrests based on Rule 113, Section 5 of the Revised Rules of Court. The Senate deliberations of the bill never showed any intention to add another element to an arrest without warrant. Hence, a warrantless arrest remains valid only in the following cases: (a) When the person to be arrested has committed, is actually committing, or is attempting to commit an offense; (b) when an offense has just been committed, and he has probable cause to believe based on personal knowledge of facts or circumstances that the person to be arrested has committed it; and (c) When the person to be arrested is an escaped prisoner.
* The authority in writing does not pertain to an order of arrest.
“The ‘written authorization’ of the ATC is intended to be issued to duly designated deputies, i.e., law enforcement agents or military personnel specially tasked and trained to handle the custodial investigation involving violations of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 as proposed, considering the complexities and nature of terrorism,” Lacson noted.
He said Section 29 is premised on a valid arrest without warrant that complies with Section 5 of Rule 113, meaning the arrest is “immediate in nature.”
“With this, it is illogical and impractical that the ATC will issue an order of arrest to a law enforcement officer who is already authorized to conduct warrantless arrest under the Revised Rules of Court,” he said, adding: “Thus, I wish to overemphasize this to clarify all misconceptions on the alleged expansion of coercive power of ATC: ATC has no power to order an arrest.”
On the other hand, Lacson said safeguards are in place including the requirement to immediately send a written notice immediately to the judge of the court nearest the place of arrest, with copies furnished the Anti-Terrorism Council and the Commission on Human Rights. The detained suspect shall be informed of his/her rights and shall not be denied access to by his/her counsel.
Lacson revealed that the phrase “having been duly authorized by the ATC,” which is now being challenged as unconstitutional, was Sen. Franklin Drilon’s amendment in the 2007 Human Security Act. This was merely retained in the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.
* The ATC has no authority to determine the period of detention in the case of warrantless arrest and decide on its extension. “If the ATC has no authority to order the arrest, much more does it have the authority to determine the period of detention of the person arrested,” Lacson noted.
He said the proposed period of detention of up to 14 days and its extension by another 10 days is to be treated as a policy decision of Congress “after considering the unique nature and effects of the crime of terrorism as thoroughly explained during our public hearings and in plenary session,” adding that law enforcers will need enough time to obtain the needed evidence for the conviction of suspected terrorists, “granting the complexities and seriousness of the crime.”
Still, he said the determination of extending the suspect’s detention for another ten days “remains with the courts.”
* The 14-day period of detention is “reasonable and sufficient” to detain suspected terrorists especially in events similar to the Marawi Siege, the 9/11 suicide bombings, and the gruesome beheading of people by ISIS. “We need not wait for similar events to occur before we realize that a three-day investigation is not enough,” he said.
* The ATC’s authority to designate a terrorist or terrorist organization does not authorize law enforcers to arrest, conduct surveillance or restrict travel. The Anti-Money Laundering Council may issue a freeze order toward the property and funds of a designated terrorist.
* ATC has No Judicial Power or Authority
Lacson, in clarifying the powers of the ATC, pointed out that Section 45 of the bill is unequivocal: “Nowhere herein shall be interpreted to empower the ATC to exercise any judicial or quasi-judicial power or authority.”
He added the ATC is not a new creation under the Anti-Terrorism Bill. It has been functioning since 2007 under the 2007 Human Security Act to serve as the “central policy-making, supervising, coordinating, and monitoring body of the government on all matters concerning domestic and international terrorism.”
“To properly interpret the nature of the power of the ATC, it would be erroneous, if not careless to rely on reading Section 29 alone. The rule on statutory construction says that the law must not be read in truancy parts, rather, its provisions must be read in relation to the whole law,” he said.
* Designation and Proscription
Meanwhile, Lacson noted a seeming confusion between the ATC’s “powers” of designation and proscription, both of which have different definitions in the bill.
He stressed the power of the ATC to designate in Section 25 is not judicial in nature, but is an executive and administrative process, to impose targeted financial sanctions pursuant to the framework under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1371.
“Arrests, detention, and the limitation on travel are not the intended consequences of designation,” he noted.
On the other hand, proscription entails a judicial process asking the court to declare as terrorists or outlawed organizations any individual or group which commits terrorism, after giving them due opportunity to be heard.
Lacson added designation allows the ATC to request for the issuance of an ex parte order to freeze from the Anti-Money Laundering Council. “Let me reiterate that designation is a preventive measure intended to trigger the issuance of a freeze order to prevent designated terrorists from accessing funds that can be used to carry out a terrorist attack,” Lacson said.
He also stressed the ATC’s role will still be ministerial as it is the AMLC that will order the freezing of property or funds related to financing of terrorism or acts of terrorism.
“I hope that this letter was able to shed light on the legislative intent with respect to some of the provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Bill that are being subjected to wrongful interpretations and misconceptions,” Lacson said.