Everyone’s a Suspect

The Anti-Terrorism Bill, which the Macapagal-Arroyo administration is pushing for with support from the U.S., has been criticized by several sectors – including media groups – for containing a definition of “terrorism” so broad it may include even legal protest actions in its list of “terroristic” acts. It turns out we could expect a bill defining terrorism so broadly everyone can be suspected of involvement with “terrorism.”

BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
Bulatlat.com

The passage of the controversial Anti-Terrorism Bill (ATB) is expected to top the agenda of the House of Representatives when it resumes session on Jan. 16. The House Committees on Justice and Foreign Affairs had passed the bill on second reading last Dec. 14, and House sources say the bill is as good as approved – meaning a passage of the bill at the plenary may as well be expected.

The latest available version of the bill is the one reported out by the two committees last Oct. 11. Members of the two committees reportedly inserted a number of amendments before approving the bill on second reading, but the House has yet to make the version with committee amendments available to the public. Insiders from both committees say there are no substantial alterations to the version reported out on Oct. 11.

The ATB, which the Macapagal-Arroyo administration is pushing for with support from the U.S., has been criticized by several sectors – including media groups – for containing a definition of “terrorism” so broad it may include even legal protest actions in its list of “terroristic” acts. Critics say people could expect a bill defining terrorism so broadly everyone can be suspected of involvement with “terrorism.”

The threat is an act, or so the bill says

One of the bill’s salient features is the frequency with which the word “threatened” or “threatening” appears in the provisions.

It starts appearing in Sec. 3, where terrorism is defined as “the premeditated, threatened, actual use of violence or force or any other means that deliberately cause harm to persons, or of force and other destructive means against property or the environment, with the intention of creating or sowing a state of danger, panic, fear, or chaos to the general public or segment thereof, or of coercing or intimidating the government to do or refrain from doing an act.” The term reappears several times in Sec. 4, which lists down several manners in which “terroristic” acts may be committed:

1 Threatening or causing death or serious bodily harm to a person or persons;

2 Threatening or causing serious risk to health or safety of the public or any segment of the public;

3 Threatening or causing substantial damage or wanton destruction or resorting to arson on critical infrastructure or property, public or private;

4 Causing serious or unlawful interference with or serious unlawful disruption of an essential service, facility or system, whether public or private;

5 Hijacking or threatening to hijack any kind of aircraft, electric or railroad train, locomotive, passenger bus or other means of mass transportation, or public conveyance, or piracy of ship or sea vessel;

6 Taking or threatening to kidnap or deprive any person of his/her liberty;

7 Killing or violently attacking an internationally protected person or depriving the liberty of such person in violation of the Convention on the Protection and Punishment of Crimes Against Internationally Protected Persons, including Diplomatic Agents, and other international agreements;

8 Attacking or threatening to attack the cyberspace, by destroying the actual machinery of the information and communication infrastructure, disrupting the information technology underlying the internet, government or private networks or systems, or committing any unlawful act against networks, servers, computers or other information and communication systems;

9 Willfully destroying the natural resources in land, water and air, such as forests or marine and mineral resources, or intentionally causing oil or toxic spillages, or other similar acts of destruction against the environment that threatens ecological security;

10 Unlawfully manufacturing, processing, selling, acquiring, possessing, using, diverting, supplying or transporting chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear agents, or equipment and instruments used in their production, distribution, release or spread that would endanger directly or indirectly the safety of one or more individuals, or to cause mass destruction or great damage to property; or

11 Unlawfully manufacturing, selling, acquiring, supplying, disposing, using or possessing explosives, bombs, grenades, projectiles, devices or other lethal weapons, or substances or machinery used or intended to be used for the manufacture of explosives in furtherance of, or incident to, or in connection with, an act of terrorism defined herein.

Under the bill, a mere “threat” to commit any act of “terrorism” can be classified as a “terroristic” act, sufficient for one to get life imprisonment and be fined P10 million ($190,403.66 based on a $1:P52.52 exchange rate as of Jan. 6). The death penalty may even be meted out if the “terroristic” act is “proven” to have resulted in the death of a person or “found” to have been committed with equipment “peculiar to the armed forces or other law enforcement agencies” or if the perpetrator is or used to be a government official or employee.

As to whether what constitutes a threat or who will determine what constitutes a threat the bill does not say. The determination of what constitutes a threat to commit any act that falls under Sec. 4 of the Anti-Terrorism Bill is thus left to the imagination of the authorities.

With this, a protest action may be deemed a threat to cause death or serious bodily harm to a person or group of persons, a threat of serious risk to the health or safety of the public or any segment of the public, or threatening “substantial damage or wanton destruction or resorting to arson on critical infrastructure or property, public or private” –and protesters may be stopped and arrested even before they begin to march.

Other implications

The bill carries grave implications not only for leaders and members of cause-oriented groups, but also for those in association with them in even the remotest manner.

In Sec. 7 of the bill, “Establishing, maintaining or serving as contact or link with any person or group of persons or organization/s who have pursued or are pursuing terrorism” is listed among several acts that “facilitate, contribute to or promote terrorism.” With this provision, one only needs to have on him a single letter or even a text message from anyone the authorities deem as having pursued or are pursuing “terrorism” to get himself into trouble.

Especially vulnerable to this provision are journalists interviewing “terrorists” in the interest of airing both sides of a story or issue. The experiences of journalists Rene Dilan and Julius Babao, who were recently questioned by the military and the police for doing coverages that brought them into contact with suspected “terrorists,” are examples of what lies ahead should the Anti-Terrorism Bill be passed.

But it doesn’t stop there. The same provision targets just about anyone who comes into even the slightest contact with “terrorists.” If a sidewalk vendor is found to have sold a cigarette to anyone deemed as having pursued or pursuing “terrorism,” the authorities have license to go after him.

Under the bill, conviction of any act that facilitates, contributes to or promotes terrorism carries the same punishment as that for committing “terroristic” acts.

Likewise, Sec. 14 of the bill provides that: “Any peace officer or a private person may, without warrant, arrest a person: (a) when, in his presence, the person to be arrested has committed, is actually committing, or attempting to commit any of the offenses under this Act; or (b) when any of said offenses has in fact been committed and he has reasonable ground to believe that the person to be arrested has committed the same.”

What constitutes “reasonable ground” to believe anyone has committed any of the offenses mentioned in the bill? The bill does not say. Mere suspicion then may constitute a ground for arrest. Anyone who lives on the same street with any person or group of persons deemed “terrorists” can be arrested on mere suspicion that he has made contact with them. The bill allows for detention of up to three days before filing charges.

At this point it would do well to recall a few lines from the 1997 film Good Will Hunting – specifically from the scene where the lead character, a young genius psychologically troubled by abuse he suffered from family as a child, speaks in his own defense after being arrested for assaulting an agent of the law. His words: “Liberty, in case you’ve forgotten, is the soul’s right to breathe. When laws are girded too tight, man is a syncope*.”

There can be little defense for Will Hunting’s errant behavior in much of the film, but these very words are right on the money and are worth pondering as the Anti-Terrorism Bill makes the final steps toward passage. Bulatlat.com

*Syncope is defined as “a fainting or loss of consciousness, caused by a temporary deficiency of blood supply to the brain.”

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