MANILA (UPDATE) — Terrorism "knows no timing", Sen. Panfilo Lacson said Saturday, as critics of an anti-extremism law that he backed questioned its approval during the coronavirus pandemic and prepared to challenge it before the Supreme Court.
President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday approved the legislation that would authorize order warrantless arrests of people it deems are terrorists — the same day that local cases of COVID-19 breached the 40,000-mark.
Critics like Sen. Risa Hontiveros said the government should have focused on containing the pandemic and stopping millions of job losses instead of the law that would also allow the detention of suspects for up to 24 days without charge.
"Puwede ba nating sabihin sa terorista, 'Huwag muna kayong magpasabog, may COVID eh'? Terrorism knows no timing, knows no boundary. It's always urgent kasi they strike when we least expect it," Lacson told ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo.
(Can we tell terrorists, 'Don't bomb us, there's a COVID crisis'?)
"Ang loss of life dito, inosenteng sibilyan. Ayaw ba nating mayroon tayong legal protection, strong legal backbone na umiiral sa Pilipinas, na kung saan hindi tayo mabubulaga," he added.
(The loss of life here will be innocent civilians. Don't we want legal protection, a strong legal backbone in the Philippines so that terror acts will not take us by surprise?)
The law will allow regulators to freeze terror-linked assets and arrest suspects while they are still preparing for extremist acts, said the senator.
The public should not fear warrantless arrests under the law because law enforcers are required to report these to the court, the Commission on Human Rights and an anti-terrorism council, Lacson said.
Arrests should also be anchored on probable cause and personal knowledge of the crime that suspects are "about to commit, actually committing or had just committed," he said.
Enforcers risk up to 10 years in jail, dismissal from service and a permanent ban from public office if the arrests violate the rights of suspects, he said.
"Walang dapat katakutan, ikabahala. Katunayan, napakaraming safeguards na nilagay namin dito," said Lacson, a former police chief.
(There's nothing to fear or worry about. In truth, we placed many safeguards here.)
Government officials earlier said the law would exempt "advocacy, protest, dissent, stoppage of work... not intended to cause death or serious physical harm."
Several opposition lawmakers and groups have vowed to question the law before the Supreme Court, which they said could be used to target government critics.
The law takes effect on July 18, said Malacañang.
On the other hand, the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao said it “fully respects” Duterte’s move to sign the measure, saying “there is no one way of addressing threats of terrorism.”
In a statement, BARMM Chief Minister Ahod “Al Haj Murad” Ebrahim said the group is “open to engage” with the government to prepare against threats of terrorism.
However, they appealed for BARMM representation in the anti-terrorism council in an attempt to augment the fight against insurgency in the region.
“The leadership of the Bangsamoro Government is cognizant of the need for a strong policy direction on the fight against terrorism. We trust that the President will ensure that the concerns and apprehension of the Bangsamoro people on some provisions of the law will not happen,” Ebrahim said.
Ebrahim also assured that BARMM will support the law’s interpretation “and commit to continue the conversation within the Bangsamoro.”