POSTSCRIPT / July 19, 2020 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Sort out confusion over ATA, Covid-19

THE GOVERNMENT should sort out first the confusion over some basic issues to minimize state forces’ tripping over one another and alarming citizens as they hunt down terrorists, suspected coronavirus carriers, social media critics, and other targeted elements.

On the Anti-Terrorism Act (RA 11479) alone, the government has not written the implementing rules and regulations yet the police are already raring to enforce this more repressive edition of the Human Security Act of 2007 amid widespread objections.

It might be a good idea for the Supreme Court, which has been asked to junk the ATA on constitutional grounds, to issue a temporary restraining order if only to lower the temper of the times and dampen the din to a level that will enable people to listen to one another.

The police are also set to start knocking on doors to round up people suspected of having the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) that has infected over 65,300 Filipinos and haul them to isolation facilities. The cops will be assisted by firemen, barangay tanods, and other enforcers!

Using the Covid-19 scare to tighten control, the Duterte administration has gained gradual acceptance of its draconian rules that impinge on civil liberties, stifle dissent, limit people’s movements, and discourage crowds from massing to air grievances.

It has taken advantage of the people’s having adjusted to restrictions, including lockdowns euphemistically called community quarantine, to rush the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Act despite its being loaded with provisions of doubtful constitutionality.

The other Friday, its supermajority in the House of Representatives killed in a 70-11 vote at the committee level the petition for the renewal of the 25-year franchise of ABS-CBN, the country’s biggest broadcast media, as President Duterte had wanted. That was a big blow to press freedom.

On Covid-19 concerns, when the police come to transfer a supposedly sick person from his residence, will they serve a warrant or an invitation? Will he be given a written explanation of why he is being picked up and what options are open to him?

Who will determine independently at the time and place of pickup if the person is indeed infected with the coronavirus, or will he be presented the results of an earlier test?

If the reason for the pickup is related only to his infection as reflected on a medical certification, may the police decide then and there to also check alleged reports of his possessing illegal drugs, or unlicensed firearms, or stolen items?

What if the supposed Covid patient is suddenly informed that there is also a complaint for cyber-libel filed against him with the National Bureau of Investigation?

What happens if the suspected patient is actually Covid-free but gets infected as a result of his exposure to enforcers who turn out to be asymptomatic carriers? Must enforcers come around fully garbed in Personal Protective Equipment and their gear properly sanitized?

 IRR needed for ATA, Covid police action

THESE few basic questions alone highlight the need for clear implementing rules and regulations before state forces are sent to enforce the ATA or to flush out people afflicted with Covid-19.

The justice department and allied agencies – as well as the Anti-Terrorism Council to be created under ATA’s Section 45 — should lay down immediately the IRR if they are in a hurry to neutralize known terrorists.

If the police have located terrorists already, they can immediately move against them under existing laws and procedures without waiting for the ATA to become fully operational.

A minor detail to us non-lawyers, btw, is the date when the ATA took effect. Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the law took effect 15 days after its publication in the Official Gazette on July 3, or July 18, which was yesterday.

Dissenting, Theodore O. Te, former SC spokesman, said on Twitter: “There is no law that says that the online Official Gazette substitutes for the printed Official Gazette under Art. 2 of the Civil Code. Publication in the actual OG was on July 6, TF effectivity is July 22, not July 18. See Garcellano v HoR (Dec. 23, 2008), internet is not the medium for publishing laws.

Another tweeter going by the user-name @InLegality said: “Sec. Guevarra’s opinion that the ATA will take effect on July 18 (coz it was published in the Official Gazette online) is wrong. The SC ruled on Dec. 23, 2008, that the internet is not a medium for publishing laws so the correct date of effectivity of the ATA is July 21.

Still on basics, the government can help minimize the confusion in the identifying of the enforcers and pinning of responsibility.

We reiterate suggestions made on June 28 when we wrote in Postscript about the arrest of LGBT marchers joining the worldwide marking of Pride Month that recalled the “Stonewall riots” on June 28, 1969, in the Greenwich Village, New York City:

*As the police are distinct and separate from the armed forces, they should stop mimicking the military. They should not use military ranks and must shed their camouflage uniform which makes them look like army trainees lost in an urban and civilian environment.

*Police uniforms worn in raids and anti-riot operations should have prominent markings at the back that they are POLICE. Their NAMES and UNIT must be big enough to be readable, not lost in the camouflage, and permanently stitched on the front of the uniforms.

*A police team must include a uniformed member tasked to video-record the operation. At least half of the team members must be equipped with working body cameras.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 19, 2020)

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