“The proposal will take away your life, liberty and property without giving you a fighting chance to defend yourself.”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — The Duterte administration through his allies in Congress is pushing for amendments to Republic Act 9372 or the Human Security Act of 2007 (HSA).
Last week, the joint House Committees on Public Order and Safety, and National Defense and Security held its second Technical Working Group meeting to consolidate House Bill Nos. 5507 and 7141. Authored by Pangasinan Rep. Amado Espino, the two bills seek to amend the Human Security Act to “make it into a real anti-terrorism law.”
The proposed amendments came after President Rodrigo Duterte publicly labeled progressive organizations such as Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, Piston and Kilusang Mayo Uno as “legal fronts of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). Moreover, in February this year, the Department of Justice filed a petition seeking to declare alleged members of the CPP and the New People’s Army (NPA) as terrorists. The list includes more than 600 names, including 38 individuals involved in the peace process of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines, 16 political prisoners, eight dead, and two disappeared activists. The list also contains 189 aliases and an unspecified numbers of John and Jane Does, making it susceptible for inclusion of additional names.
Further, the prospect of resumption of formal talks between the GRP and the NDFP has become dimmer.
Given such context, human rights groups and progressive organizations maintained that the amendments to the law would be used to stifle the growing political dissent.
In a statement, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) said, “Many of the provisions violate constitutional rights including the freedom of assembly, expression, association, travel, press freedom and due process. The proposal will take away your life, liberty and property without giving you a fighting chance to defend yourself.”
Worse than ever
The ICJ cited, for instance, the definition of acts of terrorism under the HSA as vague and ambiguous and the proposed changes do not in any way remedy that.
Section 3 of the HSA defines terrorism as any person who commits certain crimes already punishable by the Revised Penal Code, “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 shall be guilty of the crime of terrorism.”
The ICJ argued that the vague definition of acts of terrorism under Section 3 is incompatible with international law as it prevents individuals from knowing whether their actions constitute terrorist acts under the law.
The proposed amendments make it even worse. HB 7141 proposes to add “probable cause” in the definition of terrorism to refer to “a reasonable ground of suspicion, supported by circumstances sufficiently strong in themselves to warrant a reasonable man in believing that the individual, organization, association or group of persons were or continuously engaged in terrorism.”
Sections on “proposal to commit terrorism, “inciting to terrorism,” “recruitment to terrorist organizations,” “glorification of terrorism,” “providing material support to terrorists,” are being proposed.
The ICJ pointed out that “inciting to terrorism” and “glorification of terrorism” infringe upon the freedom of expression, which is protected by the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The Philippines is a signatory to the ICCPR.
“Inciting to terrorism,” the ICJ further said, “is inconsistent with the principle of legality as it does not define at all what acts would be penalized under this provision.”
Furthermore, acts of terrorism can be defined “regardless of its stage of execution,” as HB 7141 puts it.
HB 5507, on the other hand, criminalizes not only membership in any organization declared as terrorist but also the mere intent to become a member of such organization.
With such vague definition under the proposed amendments, the NUPL said that, even the 1986 people power in EDSA is a terrorist act.
The NUPL further said human rights lawyers providing legal services to political prisoners may arguably be imprisoned since the proposed amendment prohibits the vague act of giving of “services” to terrorists.”
Safeguards to be removed, violators emboldened
HB 7141 also proposes to remove safety guarantees. Under the HSA, those who have been subjected to surveillance have the right to be informed of the acts done by law enforcement authorities or to challenge, if he or she intends to do so, the legality of the interference before the courts. The existing law also states that the person or organization being subjected to surveillance have the right to be notified if there is a written application before the court to open sealed materials that have been gathered from surveillance and have been deposited with the court. Not only the HB 7141 removes these safeguards, it also deletes the sanctions upon law enforcement officers or judicial authorities who are found to have violated this notification requirement.
“The removal of safeguards will provide these State agents the unbridled opportunity to violate human rights protected not only by international human rights law but also by Philippine laws,” the ICJ said. “Removing these safeguards will codify impunity in Philippine criminal law.”
Moreover, the bill allows the detention of a suspect for a period of 30 days without judicial warrant, excluding Saturday, Sunday and public holidays. It further absolves law enforcement agencies from any criminal liability for any delay in bringing the arrested person to the court.
Worse, any suspect may be detained for more than 30 days in the event of an “actual or imminent” attack.
In Article 9(4) of the ICCPR, that all detained persons have the right to challenge the lawfulness of their detention at any point before a judicial authority.
Emerlynne Gil, a Senior International Legal Adviser of the ICJ, said, “This is clearly incompatible with the Philippines international legal obligations and constitutes arbitrary deprivation of liberty.”
The ICJ said the 30-day period should be reduced to 48 hours or less.
The right to privacy is also endangered under the HB 7141. The bill allows the military and law enforcement personnel to listen, intercept and record, and use surveillance devices on the communications of persons charged or suspected of the crime of terrorism or conspiracy to commit terrorism, upon a written order of the Court of Appeals and/or any regional trial court.
Any information obtained through surveillance will be admissible as evidence upon the authorization of the Department of Justice. Worse, the evidentiary requirement for conviction is the mere testimony of at least two witnesses to the alleged act.
Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan, said the provisions of these bills violate many civil and political rights enshrined under the Constitution and under many international human rights instruments.”
“Clearly, the targets are critics of the Duterte regime. The implementing bodies are the military, the police, the Justice Department? These are institutions known for presenting false witnesses, fabricating testimonies and filing trumped-up charges, so such bills will merely expedite and justify such violations,” Palabay said.
There are more than 500 political prisoners in the country, of whom 173 were arrested during the Duterte administration.
The NUPL called on the people to oppose “this latest attempt to further centralize tyrannical powers on President Duterte and his state security forces.” “These proposals are designed to further terrorize the people who are victims of daily State terrorism through authoritarian addictions.”