MANILA - Sen. Risa Hontiveros on Tuesday questioned what she views as the apparent prioritization by the House of Representatives and Malacañang of the Anti-Terror bill over coronavirus-related measures.
"COVID-19 ang kalaban, pero itong Anti-Terrorism Bill ang isinalang," Hontiveros told reporters in a text message when asked to comment on online criticism about the passage of the bill.
(COVID-19 is the enemy but they opted to tackle the Anti-Terrorism Bill instead.)
President Rodrigo Duterte certified as urgent the bill that will allow authorities to detain suspected terrorists for up to 14 days.
The Senate passed the Anti-Terror bill on final reading in February before coronavirus cases spiked in the Philippines, while the House started deliberating on the measure this week before Congress goes on a 2-month break.
"Valid at dapat pakinggan ang concerns ng publiko tungkol sa (anti-terror) bill. Ang hiling nila ay maayos na programa para sa kanilang kaligtasan laban sa kinakaharap nating pandemic. Hindi ba dapat nandoon ang prayoridad natin?" Hontiveros said.
(The concern of the public about the bill is valid. They are asking for sound programs for their safety during this pandemic. Isn't that supposed to be our priority?)
Prior to the Senate's passage of the Anti-Terror bill, Hontiveros had warned that the measure could be used to target those expressing dissent against the government as it legitimizes warrantless arrests in certain circumstances.
"Alam natin na kapag hindi benevolent, kung 'di despotic yung implementors, may mga human rights violations na maaring mangyari," Hontiveros earlier told ANC's Headstart.
(We know that if the implementers are despotic instead of benevolent, human rights violations will be committed.)
Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Sen. Panfilo Lacson defended the bill, saying that enough safeguards were placed in the measure to avoid abuse.
Under the Senate version, law enforcement agencies need to notify a court and the Commission on Human Rights whenever a warrantless arrest is made. The suspect may only be detained for 14 days, which is extendable for another 10 days.
While the measure scrapped the P500,000 daily fine for the wrongful detention of suspects, any official found to have violated the rights of a suspected terrorist shall be penalized with imprisonment of 10 years.
"The concerns being raised by the progressive and leftist groups as well as human rights advocates have been adequately addressed during the Committee on National Defense and Security public hearings, as well as the debates and interpellations in plenary," Lacson, who sponsored the Senate version, said in a statement.
"I suggest they read the bill first before reacting. Terrorists or their supporters are the only ones who will be afraid of the bill," Sotto told reporters in a text message.