Repeal, not amend anti-terror law, rights groups tell Aquino

By RONALYN V. OLEA
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – Reacting to President Benigno S. Aquino III’s proposal to amend the Human Security Act of 2007 , human rights groups told Aquino the law should instead be repealed.

During the recent Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (Ledac) meeting, the Aquino administration cited amendments to the country’s anti-terror law as among its priority measures.
In a report, Aquino said one proposed amendment to the law would drastically reduce the P500,000 ($11,700) fine for each day the police or the military wrongfully detain a terror suspect.

“Who would want to be slapped with a half a million (pesos) daily fine?” Aquino told a news conference Tuesday. “A law enforcement entity would be frightened to arrest anybody despite strong intelligence reports,” Aquino said.

“Lowering the penalty misses the point that the law is still dangerous, vague and draconian and overly broad in its technical definition and framework of terrorism,” Edre Olalia, secretary general of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) said in a text message to Bulatlat.com.

NUPL has assailed the HSA for its poor and redundant meaning of terrorism, and ambiguous parameters of what constitutes a “state of terror, danger, panic or fear”. The law could thus stifle and unduly prosecute political speech, expression, and acts. “The government will only be successful in arresting more harmless persons, but not in prosecuting real criminals,” said Olalia.

Olalia served as legal counsel of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) and other groups in a petition filed before the Supreme Court seeking to declare Republic Act 9372 unconstitutional.

The petitioners asserted that with the broad definition of terrorism under the Human Security Act, anything may be classified as “terrorism.”

“The rather long-winded phrase ‘sowing and creating a condition of widespread and extraordinary fear and panic among the populace, in order to coerce the government to give in to an unlawful demand’ is plainly vague and broad at the same time, inviting so much speculation, disagreement subjectivity and arbitrariness at the least,” the petitioners stated.

The high court, however, dismissed the petition, saying that no actual injury has been inflicted on the petitioners.

Aquinos said safeguards against abuse have deterred authorities from using it. Since its passage, the law is known to have been used only twice.

According to a report, Aquino said the government also wants to remove a provision that requires terror suspects to be notified when they are placed under surveillance.

In a text message, ACT Teachers Party Rep. Antonio Tinio said, “Aquino is apparently ignorant of the actual provisions of the Human Security Act.” Tinio noted that authorities are only required to notify persons subjected to surveillance if no cases have been filed within 30 days.

Section 10 of the law states that if no case is filed within a 30-day period, the police or law enforcement official shall immediately notify the person subject of the surveillance, interception and recording of the termination of the said surveillance, interception and recording.

For Olalia, removal of such notification “adds more pangs to this monster [law].”

Cristina Palabay, convernor of End Impunity Alliance said Aquino’s proposed amendments to the HSA will further violate the civil and political rights of the people. “Such proposals further give room for state security forces to harass, threaten, intimidate, illegally arrest and detain individuals,” she said.

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) deems the same. “With his proposed amendments, President Aquino will only make the anti-terrorism law worse than it already is,” Renato Reyes Jr., Bayan secretary general, said.

“The proposed amendments seek to give this draconian law even more teeth. The amendments seek to remove deterrents for human rights violations and instead give law enforcers more leeway to conduct illegal arrests and detention. This is a very dangerous proposition. Aquino seems oblivious to the continuing cases of illegal arrests, torture and other abuses that are being carried out by his law enforcement units,” Reyes said.

Bayan said even the stiff penalty of P500,000 for every day a suspect is wrongfully arrested has not deterred some law enforcers from abusing the HSA, citing the case of Edgar Candule.

According to Bayan, Edgar Candule was arrested in March 2008 in Zambales for allegedly possessing so-called “subversive” documents, a firearm and for being suspected of membership in the New People’s Army (NPA) which the AFP considers a “terrorist” organization. At the time of his arrest, law enforcers said they found him inside a hut packing his belongings.

Because of the alleged firearm and Candule’s supposed subversive documents, law enforcers in their complaint said that he was “engaged in sowing and creating a contention (sic) of widespread fear and peace (sic)among the populace.” The PNP charged Candule with the crime of terrorism under Section 3 of the HSA.

The case was eventually dismissed by Branch 69 of the Zambales Regional Trial Court on October 29, 2010, more than two years after the arrest. The presiding Judge Josefina Farrales said the prosecution failed to prove the existence of the crime of terrorism. She also said the circumstances of the arrest showed that Candule was merely packing his things when he was arrested. She said the presence of subversive materials were “inconsequential” and that the alleged firearm taken from the accused was not even presented or identified during the testimonies of the arresting officers.

However, the provisions granting Candule compensation have not been followed despite the patently illegal arrest and the false charges of terrorism that resulted in his detention for more than two years. Candule would have been entitled to P500,000 for every day he was detained.

Candule sought damages amounting to P480 million for 32 months of illegal detention. The claim, the first of its kind, was denied by the Regional Trial Court of Zambales. NUPL-Central Luzon has appealed the case to the Court of Appeals.

“Repeal, not amend the Human Security Act. It has no basis to exist. It will only be a ground for more human rights violations,” Marie Hilao-Enriquez, Karapatan chairwoman, told Bulatlat.com.

Bayan said even without the HSA, there are already enough laws to deal with terrorism.

Reyes also questioned the timing of the proposed amendments. “Is it to prove to the US that the Philippines is worthy of receiving more military aid? Is this specifically timed for the 10th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks? Why is this even a priority now when the country is faced with far bigger problems?” Reyes asked.

The group challenged institutions such as the Department of Justice, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and the Commission on Human Rights to oppose the proposed amendments to the terror law. ()

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