House eases restrictions on ‘anti-terrorism’ bill

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A joint committee of the House of Representatives on Friday adopted a substitute bill, repealing Republic Act 9372 or the Human Security Act (HSA) of 2007 also known as the “Anti-Terrorism Act.”

During the joint hearing of the Committees on Public Order and Safety (CPOS) and on National Defense and Security, 34 lawmakers voted in favor of while 2 voted against the measure. Aside from members of the committees, ex-officio members, composed of deputy speakers and leaders of the majority and the minority, also voted.

The committee adopted the version approved by the Senate on final reading in February.

“The substitute bill is almost an overhaul of the previous Anti-Terrorism Law, which is the Human Security Act of 2007. And so just to be able to limit the difference between the Senate version and [what apears now to be the] House version, we [just] adopted the wordings in the Senate version [regarding] very important provisions [such as] the title para wala na masyadong problema (in order to avoid too many complications),” said CPOS Chairman Narciso Bravo.

The proposed measure expands the definition of acts of terror and eases restrictions on prosecuting suspects.

Deputy Speaker Luis Raymund “LRay” Villafuerte Jr., one of the authors of the bill, said the HSA is being repealed as it is already considered a “dead-letter law,” explaining that there was only one case that prospered because of the provision penalizing the arresting officer with P500,000 a day for charges wherein the accused was proven to be innocent.

“’Yung (The) effectivity ng (of the) law parang (appears to be) rendered inutile dahil takot mag-file (because of the fear of law enforcers to file) under that (HSA) because of the P500,000 clause,” said Villafuerte.

Meanwhile, Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate voted “no” to the bill, saying that the amendments would only worsen cases of violations against human rights as protest actions would be essentially be tagged as an act of terrorism.

“The Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine National Police and the security sector are pushing for these draconian measures because they would effectively make the country a police state, where protests and dissent are now equated with terrorism,” said Zarate.

The party-list representative pointed out that the bill may be easily used against critics and members of the opposition because of the vagueness and broadness of the definition of terrorism.

“Sa ganitong batas at kalakaran ay bawal nang kwestyunin ang mga anti-mamamayang polisiya at maging ang kurapsyon at katiwalian ng gobyerno (In a law and a policy like this, it is prohibited to criticize the government on anti-people policies and on corruption even),” he said.

“As it is, this anti-terror bill is patently anti-people and unconstitutional. It will also further worsen the sorry state of human rights in the country as well as heighten the state of impunity of the state security forces,” he added.

Zarate also lamented the “untimely” passage of the bill as the country faces a crisis due to the coronavirus disease pandemic.

The bill would next be presented to the plenary for deliberations and voting on the second and third and final reading.

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