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We Reject the Terror Bill

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WHY DO our government officials always think law and order, peace and security can be realized only at the expense of our rights?

We, journalists, media organizations, civil society groups, academics and other concerned individuals unequivocally reject the anti-terror bill that the House of Representatives railroaded through the wholesale adoption of Senate Bill No. 1083, to do away with the bicameral committee conference hasten its passage and enactment into law.

Let us be clear about one thing: We are against terrorism.

However, bad as the Human Security Act of 2007 is, this bill, should it become law, would be much worse, so much that it would be more apt to call it the Terror Bill.

Not only does this proposed law grant an “Anti-Terror Council” the power to designate, on mere probable cause, persons or entities as terrorists or terrorist groups, it also allows the Anti-Money Laundering Council, an ATC member, to freeze the assets of these persons or groups, all without granting them the opportunity to defend themselves and refute any information against them.

Worse, the proposed law would also allow the ATC to authorize the detention without judicial warrant of arrest of suspects for up to 14 calendar days, extendible by another 10 days.

These clearly violate the Constitution’s guarantee to due process and constitutes a usurpation of judicial power.

Worse, this bill would worsen the impunity with which many of our laws and rights are violated by the very ones sworn to protect and uphold these by doing away with the stiff penalties intended to prevent any abuse of this legislation’s most draconian measure, the extrajudicial arrest and detention of suspects.

The bill also poses mortal danger to the principles of freedom of the press and of expression in Section 9 defining the crime of “inciting to terrorism,” which can be committed “by means of speeches, proclamations, writings, emblems, banners or other representations of the same” and is punishable by 12 years in prison.

This provision is, however, prone to broad application much like this and previous administrations have used the existing offenses of inciting to sedition and rebellion to quell free speech and intimidate critics.

In effect, reportage on persons and groups deemed terrorist, or even merely repeating what they say, could be interpreted as committing inciting to terrorism.

While we all agree that the fight against terrorism is important and needs the participation and cooperation of everyone, we maintain that the proposed law is open to abuse by despotic governments to visit terror against critics and the people in general.

If a law to fight terrorism is to be contemplated, let the respect and defense of human rights be the paramount consideration.

(Punto! joins hundreds of individuals and organizations representing all sectors who signed this statement coordinated by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, 3 June 2020)

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