PNP joins majority saying ‘only terrorists will fear anti-terror bill’

THE Philippine National Police headed by General Archie Francisco F. Gamboa has joined the multitude who are saying that ‘only terrorists will fear the new anti-terror bill’ as it aired its full support to Senate Bill 1083 or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 which the House of Representatives adopted without changes and approved on final reading on Wednesday last week.

Terrorism is a crime under the Human Security Act of 2007 which describes such acts as causing "widespread and extraordinary fear and panic among the populace". The first group to be officially listed as a terrorist organization under the law is the Abu Sayyaf which, on September 10, 2015 was given the tag by a Basilan court.

According to Gen. Gamboa, the amendments to the Human Security Act of 2007 that were introduced in the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 will update and strengthen the country’s anti-terrorism policies.

“We cannot quantify the loss of lives and property, not to mention the economic impact of a scenario where there is widespread “panic and fear”, should we find ourselves caught in the middle of a terrorist attack with the same magnitude as the 9-11 in New York in 2001, the 7-7 in London in 2005, the Rizal day 2000 in Manila, and the infamous Marawi siege in May 2017,” said the country’s top cop.

Former PNP chief-turned Senator Panfilo ‘Ping’ M. Lacson said the experience of Sen. Ronald ‘Bato’ M. dela Rosa, himself a former PNP chief will justify some of the provisions in the anti-terrorism bill specifically those allowing warrantless arrests and a detention period of up to 14 days without charges.

Sen. dela Rosa had said that when he was still the Davao City Police Office chief, they were compelled to release a suspected terrorist as they were in danger of being charged in court with arbitrary detention and the case they will file against the suspect under their custody would be dismissed due to insufficient evidence.

“Months later, Sen. dela Rosa saw a video showing the same suspect they had released beheading a captive,” said Sen. Lacson. Dela Rosa confirmed the incident and said they were indeed forced to free the terrorist knowing they will be accused of violating the 3-day limit on holding a suspected criminal without any charges and fined P500,000 for each day of unlawful detention.

Gen. Gamboa said that enough safeguards are in place in the Senate bill which has been certified as urgent by President Duterte. The bill would repeal Republic Act 9372 or the Human Security Act of 2007 which allows suspected terrorists to be held only for three days by security forces without a warrant of formal charges.

“We can only say better late than sorry even if we are the latest country in Asia-Pacific to pass a law that criminalizes terrorism. But definitely there ought to be a law,” Gamboa said.

“In situations when the very existence of the democratic institutions are threatened, government can always invoke the right of the state to protect itself.  And  this Anti-Terrorism legislation is a just and valid exercise of that right of the state to protect itself and its people,” said Gen. Gamboa, a lawyer and classmate from Philippine Military Academy ‘Sinagtala’ Class of 1986 of Sen. dela Rosa.

The principal authors of the anti-terrorism bill, Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III and Sen. Lacson both asked critics to "read" it first before making harsh reactions against it.

"I suggest they read the bill first before reacting. Terrorists or their supporters are the only ones who will be afraid of the bill," said Sotto who, along with Sen. Lacson have assured there are "enough safeguards" in the measure.

Human rights, youth, progressive and militant groups have rallied against the bill  as they raised alarm over the broad definition of what constitutes as "terrorism."

Under the Senate version of the bill, terrorism was defined as engaging in the following acts with the purpose of inciting fear and seriously destabilizing structures in the country, among others: causing death or serious bodily injuries to any persons, or endangers a person's life; causing extensive damage or destruction to a government or public facility, public place, or private property; causing extensive interference with, damage, or destruction to critical infrastructure; developing, manufacturing, possessing, acquiring, transporting, supplying, or using weapons, explosives, or biological, nuclear, radiological, or chemical weapons; and releasing dangerous substances or cause fire, floods, and explosions.

Under Senate Bill 1083, those who will propose, incite, conspire, and participate in the planning, training, and facilitation of a terrorist attack could face a sentence equivalent to life imprisonment.

The same punishment would be meted out to those who provide support and recruit anyone to be a member of a terrorist organization.

The bill also says that suspected terrorists can be detained without a warrant of arrest and placed under 60-day surveillance, which may be extended to at most 30 days by the police or the military.

“The concerns being raised by the progressive and leftist groups as well as human rights advocates have been adequately addressed during the Committee on National Defense and Security public hearings, as well as the debates and interpellations in plenary,” Sen. Lacson said.