MANILA - Malacanang on Wednesday allayed fears that the proposed Anti-Terror Bill, which President Rodrigo Duterte certified as urgent, would infringe on the right to freedom of expression and pave the way for a crackdown on government critics.
“We established jurisprudence on freedom of expression and the only way that government can curtail freedom of expression is if there is a clear and present danger that the State has a right to prevent,” said Palace spokesman Harry Roque on ANC’s Headstart.
Opponents of the bill fear it could be used to suppress free speech and harass those who challenge Duterte, who commands a legislative majority and influence within the judiciary and state institutions.
Roque said there is a hierarchy of laws in the jurisdiction with Constitution that is supreme, and the laws enacted by Congress. He said when Congress infringes on the Constitution, the courts will declare it as unconstitutional.
“Where you have that exception then the courts will not intervene and will not uphold freedom of expression. But unless the State can establish that, and I think in the case of terrorists the State can easily do so, then freedom of expression will not be suppressed or infringed upon,” he said.
He added, “because according to the decision of the Supreme Court it enjoys a very high position in the hierarchy of rights even superior than property rights.”
He also stressed that the Constitution remains the fundamental guarantee of freedom of expression.
In certifying House Bill No. 6875, which amends the Human Security Act of 2007 as urgent, Duterte sought to "strengthen the law on anti-terrorism in order to inadequately and effectively contain the menace of terrorist acts for the preservation of national security and the promotion of general welfare."
Roque also defended Duterte's timing, saying that the bill has been pending for 4 years.
“It did not see the light of day in 17th Congress. It was refiled in 18th Congress so when you say why now, it’s because it’s been pending now probably for 4 years in the Senate,” said Roque.
The country's existing anti-terrorism law or the Human Security Act of 2007 had been criticized for being useless because of provisions penalizing law enforcers with the payment of P500,000 in damages per day of detention of any person acquitted of terrorism charges.
The proposed measure removes the said provision but sets the number of days a suspect can be detained without a warrant of arrest to 14 days, which can be extended by another 10 days.