Learning Series featuring the Anti-Terrorism Bill of 2020

Learning Series on Legislation
Learning Series on Legislation featuring the Anti-Terrorism Bill of 2020FNF Philippines

On 16 June 2020, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation featured the controversial Anti-Terrorism Bill of 2020 in the Learning Series which brought legislators and representatives of different sectors together to discuss the controversial provisions of the bill and its implications to Filipinos.

Representatives Jose Christopher “Kit” Belmonte of the 6th district of Quezon City, Mujiv Hataman of the Lone District of Basilan, along with Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan comprised the legislator panel. The discussion was enriched by reactors from difference sectors: Mr. Marc Siapno, of the Commission on Human Rights; Ms. Jobelle Domingo of Impact Leadership; Mr. Nassif Malawani of the Metro Manila Muslim Association, Ms. Cecilia Garrucho of Philippine Educational Theatre Association (PETA), and Ms. Chai Fonacier of DAKILA.

Quick History

While Filipinos are grappling with the pandemic, news on the passing of the Anti-Terrorism Bill on its second reading broke in the news on 29 May 2020. #JunkTerrorBill immediately trended online and concerns were raised on the specifics of the bill.

First filed in the 17th Congress to replace the Human Security Act of 2007 the bill did not move pass the deliberations of the Committee’s technical working group.

The bill garnered strong support from influential house members of the 18th Congress with at least five (5) representatives filing different versions of an anti-terrorism measure. To hasten the passage of the bill, the Joint Committees of the Committee on Public Order and Safety and the Committee on National Defense decided to forego a technical working group and a Committee Secretariat consolidated the bills filed. The Committee members were tasked to scrutinize the consolidated version of the bill through a line by line and section by section deliberation. However, to urgency to meet the Financial Action Task Force obligation was raised in order to keep the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Financing of Terrorists regulations of the Philippines at par with global standards. This prompted the Committees to totally adopt the Senate version as the Anti-Terror Bill of 2020.

In the middle of battling a pandemic and in the midst of growing criticisms on how the government handled the pandemic, The Anti-Terrorism Bill of 2020 passed on its third reading on 3 June 2020 – two days after the President certified the bill as urgent.

Controversial Provisions

Section 4 of the Anti-Terrorism Bill of 2020 defines terrorism as an act committed with the purpose of intimidating the general public or a portion of it to create an atmosphere of fear, intimidate the government, destabilize political, economic, social structures in the country which creates an emergency and seriously undermine public safety.

Representative Belmonte, one of the 36 representatives who opposed the bill said, “the bill as it is written now is overbroad. Terrorism is defined as ‘acts punishable under the revised penal code, if you establish the intent, to for example cause fear, on a population or a segment of a population for political purposes.’ However based on my research the definition of terrorism is the actual international definition established under so many jurisdictions. But my problem with that is that it is so broad that the definition of terrorism that it can also cover many other scopes of activities like the Philippine National Police’s violent drug war operations may be considered terrorism.”

On the safeguard and unconstitutionality of the bill, Rep. Belmonte said that, “the provided safeguard – which doesn’t allow expression of free speech, etc to public assembly to be considered under terrorism is only covered by Section 4. This doesn’t cover the other sections of the bill -  sections 5 to 12 - which are threats, preparations, conspiring, proposal to commit terror, inciting, recruitment, foreign terrorists participation, material support – all of these parts are not covered by the provision which is a safeguard to legitimate expression of free speech, public assembly, and public organization. Proviso is only until Sec 4. All these others circumvent on the safeguards in Section 4.”

Senator Pangilinan echoed the unconstitutionality of some of the provisions. He is one of the two senators who voted against the bill in the Senate. According to him, the bill violates “the right of the people to free speech and expression. The Bill of Rights says ‘no law should be passed abridging the freedom speech’ Section 9 precisely inciting to terrorism punished speeches and writings so this again runs afoul to our Bill of Rights.”

He further reiterated the reason for his no vote in the Senate on the bill, “the length and breadth of the Constitutional infringement on our rights is splattered all over therefore that is why we voted against this.”

Senator Pangilinan also likened the usurpation of judicial powers of the Anti-Terrorism Committee to the executive warrants issued during the Marcos Regime – the Arrests Seizure Order (ASO) and the Preventive Detention Action (PDA) which were implemented during the Marcos Regime to quell opposition. “The Anti-Terrorism Committee now has the power to issue written authorizations for arrests for a period of 14 days extendible to another 10 days. The 1987 constitution precisely put in place that this power is a judicial power, that the judge must personally examine witnesses and the complainant, and must personally determine before he is to issue a warrant of arrest. That is there because the executive warrants of arrest under Marcos’ regime were abused”

Deleted Provisions

The current version of the Anti-Terrorism Bill of 2020 did not adapt three provisions from the Human Security Act of 2007. Sections 50, 55, and 56 are provisions which serve as a check and balance to powers and authorities in the implementation of the Human Security Act of 2007. As well as key provision which states the remuneration for unproven charges or wrongful accusation in the implementation of the Human Security Act of 2007.

Section 55 states the role of the Commission on Human Rights in the Human Security Act of 2002, is one of the deleted provisions in the Anti-Terrorism Bill of 2020.

Marc Siapno, Chief Strategic Communications Officer of the Philippines’ National Human Rights Institution, opened with the Commission on Human Right’s support to counter any possible threats to the security of Filipinos, and its concerns on the current version of the Anti-Terrorism Bill.

“We condemn terrorism because we believe that people have the right to a safe and enabling environment where they can live safely, where they can live their full lives based on their potentials, but as CHR we have the duty to remind the government to priorities human rights and warn them against human rights violations- possible human rights violations that may arise from pieces of legislations such as the Anti-Terrorism Bill,” Mr. Siapno said when he explained the stance of the Commission on Human Rights on the controversial piece of legislation.

The absence of a due process in the bill- provided by the deleted provisions, is another concerning matter raised by the Commission on Human Rights. “The bill talks about detaining a person for a maximum of 24 days without even penalty if it goes beyond. So it’s really concerning for us especially when the constitution tells that you have the guarantee of due process but you’re being detained without any reason- you don’t know what your charge is and you are detained but the burden to prove your innocence is on you rather than the accused then obviously that is a cause for concern for the CHR.”

On the deletion of Section 50 which seek to provide reparations to unlawful implementation of the law, and unproven charges, Mr. Siapno stated that, “It is also a concern that the ATB removed Section 50 of the Human Security Act that penalizes wrongful conviction, wrongful accusation placed upon suspected individuals as terrorists. It makes it harder for us to determine accountability should there be a lapse on the part of law enforcement agencies.”

Relating to current events brought about by unclear guidelines and excess of power, he likened this to the lack of clear and uniform guidelines on checkpoints during the lockdown which gave rise to a number of human rights violations and abuses.

On civil and political freedoms which are infringed upon by the bill, Mr. Siapno clarified that “just because you have questions or terrorisms, doesn’t make you automatically a terrorist.”

He further reiterates that, “the construction of the safeguard provision in Section 4 raises concerns because it makes it seem like our rights are exclusions rather than a general rule protected under the constitution. What’s even more concerning is that if you look down further into the construction, your intent will be determined by law enforcement agencies which makes it easy for law enforcers to say that your protest endangers public safety thus you are easily tagged as a terrorist. It shifts the burden to law enforcements agencies to prove your guilt rather than you being assumed innocent which is supposed to be a constitutional guarantee as well.”

Other provisions that were deleted are section 50 and section 56 of the Human Security Act.

Section 50 states the provision for damages of unproven charges of terrorism.

Section 56 which is the Creation of a Grievance Committee which would receive and evaluate complaints against the police and law enforcement officials.

Learning Series on Legislation
Screen shot of the members of the panel and organizers of the webinarFNF Philippines

Learning from Experience

Representative Mujiv Hataman of the Lone District of Basilan reiterated the need for a comprehensive policy to fight terrorism and provided a perspective from the lens of the people who have actually experienced terrorism.

He said that “if there should be any person in the Congress who should vote for an Anti-Terrorism Bill, and a representative who should rally support for such a bill, it should be me. Terrorism started in Basilan. Abu Sayyaf was also founded in Basilan. But I voted no for the bill because this will empower terrorist as we are curtailing the rights of the few.”

He cited that in 2001, during the term of then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, a State of Lawlessness was declared in Basilan. All suspected individuals were arrested but according to Representative Hataman, this only worsened terrorism in Mindanao. More people joined the terrorist organization.

He further explained that “law enforcement should be strengthened but also on the other hand policies, there should be policies which would help to encourage terrorists to integrate themselves back to society.”

He further cited a program he implemented when he was the Regional Governor of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

“Late 2015 to 2019, there was a total of 263 surrendered terrorists. Because of the Program Against Violent Extremism (PAVE). The program was a collaborative effort among the LGU, local law enforcers and civil society organizations.  Of the 263 terrorists who surrendered, 215 were subjects to a study. They were subjected to psychosocial interventions and were interviewed. The findings of the study revealed that only 7% of the terrorists who surrendered joined Abu Sayyaf because of faith or the ideology. 93% joined because of injustices: poverty, discrimination, lack of opportunities, unemployment, and access to education. So we ask ourselves, are we going to create a law which would answer the 7% or the 93%? If we choose to answer the 7% and the execution was wrong, this might encourage more people to join terrorist organizations.”

Representative Hataman reiterates the importance of a science, study-based approach in creating programs and platforms to the problem the country is facing.

He also addressed the comparison of the Anti-Terrorism Bill of 2020 to the anti-terrorism measures of countries like Australia. He said that “in the case of Australia, it has strong re-radicalization program even when in jail. It has a good mix of strong law enforcement policy and a strong re-radicalization program which would help in reintegrating these individuals back to society. In the case of the Philippines, we just send them to jail and there are times when they can even recruit members while in jail.”

Representative Hataman emphasized the need for a comprehensive policy if the goal is to end terrorism, “even if there’s strong law enforcement if the goal is to put an end to terrorism, we need a clear program - a science and study-based approach in creating programs and platforms to the problem the country is facing. The solution is not to curtail the rights of the few.”

Resisting Authoritarian Tendencies

Concerns were raised by representatives of groups from different sectors of society. One of which is the threat to participation.

Jobelle Domingo of Impact Leadership expressed the youth’s stance on the bill +Impact Leadership is a youth organization for nation-building which invests in the potentials of the youth by honing their capabilities and grooming them to be transformational leaders.

Ms. Domingo said that, ‘the culture of fear that the bill espouses will hinder participation not just from the youth but in all sectors of society. It hinders participation because you are scared to be tagged as a terrorist, you are scared of being imprisoned without actual evidence that you’re a terrorist.”

On the stance of Impact Leadership on the bill, “For our organization, this bill is just another way to consolidate power to dominate over critics. This is what authoritarians do: Step 1: create a culture of lies and fear to hide their incompetence, Step 2 Say that it’s actually the opposition and the critics that are lying, or destroying or dismantling the government, Step 3 No one wants to criticize or raise opinions any more- no one wants to participate in the national affairs anymore, then all of a sudden game over democracy is dead. That’s why this bill is very crucial. We must resist authoritarian tendencies.”

Minority Sector vulnerable due to stigma

Mr. Nassif Malawani expressed concerns on the Anti-Terrorism Bill on behalf of the Muslim Filipinos. Mr. Malawani is the president of Metro Manila Muslim Trade Association.

Speaking on behalf of the Muslim community, he said that “Muslims are the most vulnerable in the Anti-Terrorism Bill, because of the stigma that Muslims as terrorists. Even if it’s a minor offence of in cases of unintentional incidence where Muslims are involved, it is easy to put the blame on Muslims. What more if the Anti-Terrorism Bill turns into law.”

Mr. Malwani also expressed concerns on the Section 29 of the bill which includes a provision on warrantless arrest and detention for 14 days and extedable to 10 days. Speaking from experienced, he shared that he was detained for 40 days during Martial law era for protesting. He was 15 years old and what happened resulted was traumatic for him.

He also raised concerns on the lack of opportunity and platform for Muslim representatives to discuss and give their opinions when they were amending the bill.

Learning Series on Legislation
Reactors from Different SectorsFNF Philippines

Freedom of Expression and Story-Telling

One of the most affected groups which was very vocal in its opposition to the bill are the artists, and cultural creatives.

The Philippine Educational Theatre Association’s President, Ms. Cecilia Garrucho stated the concerns of PETA. PETA is a theatre group that stages plays on on social issues and issues of national significance.

Chai Fonacier, an actress and member of the artist activist collective DAKILA, also joined the panel of reactors to explain how crucial are the freedoms of expression and speech to artists, their crafts, and platforms.

On the importance of freedom of expression and speech to artists, Ms. Garrucho said that, “as artists, it’s in our DNA to exercise Freedom of Expression. We use that freedom of expression, freedom of speech when we produce a play. When we present a play, we speak and most of the time the plays that PETA does are plays that hold up a mirror to what is really happening in society.  Because of this bill, because of what we do does that qualify us as terrorists?”

Ms. Fonacier strengthened the role of free speech on how artists tell stories. “As an artist, I feel that when a government cracks down on us, it’s cracking down on the public on the whole. It says that no one is allowed to speak unless it’s all good stuff, never mind whether it is or isn’t true. It says, no one is allowed to tell them where they’re wrong. When a government cracks down on storytellers, it says no one is allowed to tell them that they’re humans.”

On the role of story-telling in raising awareness on social issues, Ms. Fonacier said that, “stories are the last frontier of freedom. When a government cracks down on storytellers -- and that includes news media by the way, because true-to-life stories ARE stories -- we are all doomed.”

Moving Forward

One of the popular question during the webinar on the Learning Series featuring the Anti-Terrorism Bill is directed towards ways where amendments can be done.

Senator Pangilinan said that, “we must exhaust all legal remedies and one such remedy available is to bring this matter to the Supreme Court. Question the constitutionality of a number of provisions and we believe that it is best for us to have as many petitions before the Supreme Court so that the SC will feel the pressure, will see that there is deep opposition towards this measure.”

Resource persons – legislators and representatives of different groups – all called for vigilance and collective effort to raise more support in opposing the measure.

Marc Siapno calls for vigilance “regardless of the administration, the same vigilance should be there. Regardless of administration, a good law should pass and navigate through the careful nuances of the constitution and the rights granted to us by the same constitution.”

Citing the June 11 press conference as an example for groups coming together to express dissent. On 11 June, according to Senator Pangilinan, “is the first time in a long time that we’ve had different groups- political organizations coming together to a press conference to announce the various June 12 activities against the Terror Bill. We do need unity. We do need to come together. We do need to cobble together a strong opposition constituency against this measure and other excesses that we now see prevalent and that’s the way forward.”

He also raised the importance of organizing more online. “The filing of this bill should be a springboard for vigilance and grassroots organizing to oppose the measure, to come up with fora, discussion groups online. Use technology to reach out to more. Digital communications will give you speed, will give you scale, and will you scope that a physical rally will not. That is another tool we can use. Digital media to scale up in opposing this measure.”

The same sentiment was raised by Ms. Garrucho when she called for the citizens to “form communities online by the millions. Create communities of truth seekers, communities that will not resort to hatred nor violence but we do what is right. We’re interested in what’s ethical and what is correct. Communities that will “hold the line” to quote Maria Ressa.”

Wolfgang Heinze, Head of Country of FNF Philippines, in his opening remarks raised the importance of “creating a safe space where ordinary Filipinos can talk about very important issues on the political side and that they can discuss these issues politicians who drafted the bill or who were active in the discussions on a particular bill. The most important part of politics is engaged citizens who are informed about what’s going on, who can have informed opinions, and can make informed decisions.”

The Learning Series was able to successfully bring lawmakers closer to the public to discuss an important piece of legislation.

House Bill 6873 or the Anti-Terrorism Bill of 2020 was sent to the Office of the President on the morning of 10 June. The bill awaits the President’s signature or veto. If the President opted to not act on the bill, the bill would lapse into law on 9 July.

Watch the videos of the webinar below:

Representative Kit Belmonte on the Anti-Terrorism BillFNF Philippines
Senator Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan on the Anti-Terrorism Bill of 2020FNF Philippines
Reactors from different sectors and Q&AFNF Philippines