Who's a terrorist? Social media can be basis under new law but no immediate arrests, says Esperon

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 04 2020 12:56 PM | Updated as of Jul 04 2020 01:06 PM

Protesters rally against the anti-terrorism bill on Independence Day, in University of the Philippines, Quezon City, June 12, 2020. Eloisa Lopez, Reuters


MANILA — Authorities could use social media as basis for identifying terror suspects under a new law that gives law enforcers additional powers against extremists, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon said Saturday. 

Esperon was asked during a Laging Handa press briefing about whether or not online activity may be cited in identifying terror suspects. He replied: "Maaari (possibly)." 

"Hindi kaagad ay manghuhuli tayo dahil mayroon nang Anti-Terrorism Act," he said. 

(We will not immediately arrest because we now have the Anti-Terrorism Act.) 

He said the National Security Council will adopt the list of extremists by the United Nations' Security Council and Office of Counter-Terrorism. 

Currently tagged as a terrorist organization by the UN is the Islamic State-linked Abu Sayyaf Group, which is responsible for deadly bombings and abductions mostly in southern Philippines.

Esperon said that under procedure, the justice secretary will then submit to the Court of Appeals a petition that identifies groups and individuals that should be deemed as terrorists. 

The court will have 6 months to decide on whether or not to grant the petition. After this, terror suspects will be under surveillance for up to 90 days which could lead to arrest, he said. 

Under the law that President Rodrigo Duterte signed Friday, suspects can be detained for up to 24 days without charges, a provision which opponents allege violates a 3-day limit set by the Philippine constitution.

Critics also claim the legislation strips away old safeguards, such as penalties against law enforcers for wrongful detention of suspects. 

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Law enforcers are required to report arrests to the anti-terrorism council, the Commission on Human Rights and the court. They could face 10 to 12 years in prison for wrongful arrests, said Esperon. 

The legislation also exempts advocacy, protest, dissent and stoppage of work, he said. 

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. 
 
"Anong ikinakatakot nila? Itong ating law-abiding citizens ay walang dapat ikatakot dahil itong anti-terrorism law ay para sa kapakanan at seguridad ng law-abiding citizens," Esperon said.

(What are they afraid of? Our law-abiding citizens should have nothing to fear because this anti-terrorism law is for their welfare and security.) 
 
"Ang mga natatakot dito ngayon ay iyong sinasabing tahimik daw sila pero nagsusuporta naman sa terorista, nagsusuporta naman sa armed struggle," he added. 
 
(Those who are afraid of this are claim they are quiet but are supporting terrorists, supporting armed struggle.) 

The law takes effect on July 18, said Malacañang. The national security council will "review" the law and come up with implementing rules and regulations, Esperon said. 

— With a report from Agence France-Presse