Senate okays anti-terror bill

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — VOTING 10-2 with no abstention, the Senate yesterday approved on third and final reading the controversial bill designed to combat terrorism.

Senate President Manuel Villar said the anti-terrorism measure will stop terrorists on their tracks, while leaving little room for abuse. “The safeguards we have put in place, we hope, will ease the fears of human rights advocates and the general public as well.”

Malacañang welcomed the passage of the bill, which President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo certified as an urgent measure. “Definitely, this is a very positive development,” said Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita.

Senators Mar Roxas and Jamby Madrigal were the only members of the upper chamber who voted against the measure, Senate Bill 2137 or the “Human Security Act of 2007” with Senator Juan Ponce Enrile as principal author.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr., who earlier opposed the passage of the bill, finally relented, noting that Enrile adopted most of the amendments he proposed.

The bill languished in Congress for almost two years now since it was proposed in October 2005. The House of Representatives approved its version last December, while the senators debated on changes to adopt and make sure the bill would have provisions against possible human right violations by law enforcers. The bicameral panel has yet to meet to iron out the differing provisions of their respective version of the measure.

In opposing the bill, Roxas said that the government’s basic “toolbox” in the battle against terrorism is not in place. He said that the computers of the Bureau of Immigration, for example, cannot link with those of the National Bureau of Investigation and other law enforcement agencies like the National Police or the Armed Forces.

“It would seem to me that attending to these matters—of having the computers speak to one another, the appropriate training of our people, providing equipment for forensics and for law enforcement all across the country, will have much greater impact and thus contribute to a much greater success to our battle against terrorism,” Roxas said.

The Senate version of the measure punishes as an act of terrorism various offenses already defined as crime under penal statutes, if accompanied by the condition of “sowing and creating a condition of panic among the populace in order to coerce the government to give in to an unlawful demand.”

Under the bill, a convicted terrorist or his co-conspirator would suffer 40 years of imprisonment without the benefit of parole. An accomplice would suffer from 17 years to 20 years of jail term, while an accessory would get 10 to 12 years of imprisonment.

The measure allows surveillance of suspects and recording of communications if authorized by the Court of Appeals, although this would not apply to communications between lawyers and clients, doctors and patients, journalists and their sources, as well as other business correspondence.

Among the major amendments to the anti-terrorism bill are the following: the number of days a suspect can be detained without court warrant or formal charges was cut from 15 days to only three days; the amount of compensation for each day of detention that would be given to people wrongly arrested or detained as terrorist suspect was increased from P50,000 a day to P500,000.

Even if the bill is eventually signed into a law, it would take effect only two months after the May 14 elections.

The anti-terrorism bill is actually a multi-partisan effort, having as co-authors Senators Panfilo Lacson, Ramon Magsaysay Jr., Alfredo Lim, Bong Revilla, and Joker Arroyo.