Renewed Gov’t Pitch for Anti-Terror Bill Draws Flak

Following the reported foiling by British authorities of an alleged new terror plot, the Arroyo government renewed its pitch for the immediate enactment of the proposed Anti-terrorism bill. But the Senate remains unmoved by government appeals and human rights lawyers vowed to block such efforts.

By Jhong dela Cruz

The reported foiling by British authorities of a “terrorist plan” to bomb transatlantic planes traveling from Heathrow airport to the United States placed countries such as the U.S. and the Philippines in full alert. Because the terrorist plot was supposed to use liquid bombs, all types of liquids and gels were banned from airplanes in Britain and the U.S.

But the riding public in Metro Manila did not expect that their daily routine of taking commuter trains would be affected by these new security restrictions. Metrostar, operator of the Metro Rail Transit 3 (MRT 3), implemented a ban on all kinds of liquid including beverages and gel starting August 12. This caused delays as inspections were tightened in MRT stations.

The heightened security measures were implemented not only at MRT stations, however. The Arroyo government raised a nationwide security alert and ordered tighter security measures at airports, seaports, and public transport places around the country. It also convened the government’s Anti-Terrorism Task Force.

The Arroyo government also took the opportunity to renew its pitch for the immediate enactment into law of the proposed Anti-Terrorism Bill (ATB).

Senate objections

The international alert has apparently placed the Senate under pressure to immediately pass its version of the ATB.

The House version, authored by Representatives Marcelino Libanan (Eastern Samar) and Douglas Cagas (Davao del Sur), was passed in April this year. House Bill 4839 sought the definition, institution of mechanisms to suppress acts constituting terrorism and provided the penalties for such acts.

Senators have put brakes on the measure, however. Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel last week refused to accede to the government’s call saying the Arroyo government must first solve the spate of political killings, before the upper chamber would consider its own bill.

In a statement, Pimentel said, “It would be unwise to approve this bill while the administration has not shown sincerity and determination to solve political killings,” especially when “soldiers and policemen have been tagged as the perpetrators.”

“The problem with the government of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is that even if there is no Anti-Terrorism Law yet, it has been harassing people who are perceived to be her political enemies. They are being treated like terrorists,” he said.

Pimentel raised doubts on how the government might use the anti-terrorism act. “The President should resign first from her position before we can discuss this legislation,” he said.

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