MANILA — Senate President Vicente "Tito" Sotto III on Wednesday blasted critics of the controversial anti-terrorism bill, saying they do not understand the proposed measure.
"Ang dami kong naririnig at nababasa sa social media na mukhang di naiintindihan eh, katakot-takot na pintas, hindi nila alam itong anti-terror bill na bago, daming epal ika nga. Iyung pinipintas nila wala don sa bill," Sotto said in a Teleradyo interview.
(I hear and read so many posts on social media that makes it appear they don't understand, it's all criticism, they don't know this new anti-terror bill. The basis of their criticism is not in the bill.)
The House of Representatives late Tuesday approved on second reading House Bill 6875 which repeals the "outdated" Human Security Act of 2007. The Senate, meanwhile, approved the same measure last February.
Critics said the proposed measure would violate basic rights. Netizens have also used the hashtag #JunkTerrorBill on social media to express their disagreement, criticizing the call for its swift passage despite the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
But according to Sotto, the bill has enough safeguards to ensure that state forces would not abuse the powers granted under the bill to go after government critics.
"Ang dapat matakot lang dito ay terorista at sumusuporta sa terorita pero kung taumbayan walang dapat ikatakot. Lahat ng safeguard natin andyan," Sotto said.
(Only terrorists and their supporters should be scared of this bill, but the public has nothing to be scared of. All safeguards are there.)
He guaranteed that those who may be prosecuted under the proposed law are terrorists as defined by the United Nations Security Council and the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC).
He said those participating in protests, strikes or other forms of mass action to register dissent do not fall under the same category.
"It [only] includes [those] na identified ng United Nations Security Council at other jurisdictions. Hindi basta nanggugulo sa kanto terorista na... It does not include advocacy, protest, dissent, stoppage of work, 'yung strike or industrial or mass action, or exercise of civil and political rights," Sotto said.
President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday called for the immediate passage of the bill to "address the urgent need 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."
Critics and human rights advocates expressed concern over the proposed amendment, which sets the number of days a suspect can be detained following warrantless arrest to 14 days, which can be extended by another 10 days.
This constitutes an exemption from Article 125 of the Revised Penal Code that seeks to deter arbitrary detention. The provision punishes law enforcers if they fail to bring a detainee to proper judicial authorities within a certain period of time: 12 hours for crimes with light penalties, 18 hours "for crimes or offenses punishable by correctional penalties," and 36 hours "for crimes, or offenses punishable by afflictive or capital penalties, or their equivalent."
If the bill becomes law, any person accused of threatening to commit terrorism faces 12 years in prison. The same prison term will be imposed on those who will propose any terrorist acts or incite others to commit terrorism.