MANILA - A lawmaker who sponsored the controversial anti-terror bill which critics fear could be used to suppress free speech and harass those who go against President Rodrigo Duterte, withdrew as author of the legislation a day after defending it.
Muntinlupa Rep. Ruffy Biazon, one of the initial sponsors who pursued the approval of House Bill No. 6875 in the lower chamber, voted against the measure in Wednesday's session, explaining it was "not his real work."
"My vote is no to the bill. My name could not be attached to a bill that is not my real work. So, my withdrawal as author of the measure is another thing that I would like to present to the House," he said.
The House on the same day approved the bill on third and final reading, with 173 House members voting yes, 31 voting no, and 29 abstentions. If it becomes a law, the government will be authorized to wiretap suspects, arrest them without warrant, and hold them without charge for 14 days, among other provisions.
Biazon said some of his colleagues should have been given the opportunity to propose their amendments to the measure, which lawyers and activists warned of draconian and arbitrary provisions that could be abused to target critics.
"Hindi po natin masabi na ang ating mga kasamahan ay nakapagbigay ng kanilang inputs para mabigay natin ang panukalang batas na masasabing nanggaling mismo sa House of Representatives," he said, noting that that the bill is a mere adoption of the Senate's version of the anti-terror bill, which was passed last February.
Biazon sought understanding from lawmakers and security agencies they worked with on the bill.
"To my colleagues and to the security agencies that we have been working with regard to this bill, I beg your understanding. My position after all that have been said by the members of the House of Representatives, I believe that we should stand up for the House," he said, adding he still advocates for anti-terrorism legislation.
Biazon earlier argued that the country's Human Security Act had to be amended as provisions penalizing those who are found guilty of detaining of any person acquitted of terrorism charges force law enforcers to back in the corner.
“Parang natali ang kamay ng law enforcement and at the same time hindi tayo makapagsampa ng kaso gamit ito sa higpit ng batas. Kaya kinailangan iyong adjustment para may angkop na batas na magagamit," he had said.
Meanwhile, Antique Rep. Loren Legarda clarified that she wasn't a co-author of the legislation after reports claimed she was.
"In fact, I voted no to the measure," she tweeted.
Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said the bill is unconstitutional because it violates the Bill of Rights, and it can be weaponized against members of the opposition since the definition of terrorism in the measure is vague and broad.
"Malaki ang panganib sa pinalawak na depinisyon ng terorismo na kahit sino, kahit ordinaryong tao na nag-post ng kaniyang pagtingin sa social media ay maaaring ituring ng gobyerno na terorista kung nanaisin nito. Huwag nang banggitin pa ang magiging turing ng administrasyon sa mga aktibista, na sa kasalukuyang hindi pa pasado ang panukala ay kinukulong na at pinapatay," Zarate said.
(The broad definition of terrorism poses grave danger to anyone, even to ordinary persons who post their opinion on social media can be considered a terrorist if the government so pleases. Let's not even get into this administration's treatment of activists, who have been jailed and murdered when the bill wasn't even passed yet.)
Opposition lawmaker Edcel Lagman also criticized Duterte for prioritizing the passage of a bill he described as "draconian" over an economic stimulus package pending congressional approval, which aims to help mitigate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
However, Presidential spokesman Harry Roque earlier said elements of the bill were patterned on those used in countries that had dealt effectively with extremism.
He said the 5-month takeover in 2017 of the southern city of Marawi by militants loyal to Islamic State showed the extent of extremist influence in the country.
"Let us not forget, the remains of Marawi is still there," Roque said.
--With a report from Zandro Ochona, ABS-CBN News