POSTSCRIPT / June 11, 2020 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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ATB shifts burden of proof to accused

THE Anti-Terrorism Bill awaiting the signature of President Duterte is riddled with draconian provisions, including its shifting to the accused the burden of proving his innocence instead of the long-held rule that it is the accuser who must prove guilt.

A person accused under the ATB could be detained for as long as 14 days (compared to three days at present) and 10 additional days if the authorities claim they need more time to wrap up the case or prevent a conspiracy from ripening to actual terrorism.

Even under martial law, when the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus is suspended for persons charged for rebellion or offenses connected with invasion, those arrested or detained must be charged within three days, otherwise they shall be released. (Art. VII, Sec. 18).

If the present regime can be abused as in the case of Mang Elmer, 72, a jeepney driver arrested while protesting his being prohibited from plying his route, what more under the ATB armed with an overbroad definition of terrorism and terroristic acts?

The measure also allows a period of up to six months, with court approval, for surveillance, wiretapping and recording of private communications, access of database, examination of bank records, freezing of assets of persons and organizations suspected of financing terrorism or having connections with terrorists, among other acts.

As it generates a climate of fear and tightens restrictions on free speech and other legitimate airing of demonstrable grievances, the enhanced Anti-Terrorism Act could stifle dissent and criticism of government policies and action.

The proposed Anti-Terrorism Council can classify as terrorism — punishable by severe prison terms without parole — certain acts that it deems as tending to scare or incite people to rise against the government.

This must be the reason why Senate President Vicente Sotto said in a TV interview that if the ATB becomes law, there will no longer be a need to declare martial law. He practically equated the proposed anti-terrorism law to martial rule.

Senate Bill 1083, which was passed in February and copied by the House of Representatives as HB 6875, was authored by Sotto and senators Imee Marcos, Ronaldo dela Rosa, Lito Lapid, Bong Revilla and Ping Lacson

*Special report to our cabalen: All the congressmen of Pampanga, except Dong Gonzales (3rd Dist.) who was absent, voted for the ATB. Yes-voters were Jon Lazatin (1st Dist.), Mikey Arroyo (2nd Dist.) and Rimpy Bondoc (4th Dist.). Macarine la!

Some congressmen say that many of them vote without reading or studying bills. Roused by the widespread public condemnation of the ATB, several lawmakers have withdrawn their Yes vote or changed it with Abstention.

The Integrated Bar of the Philippines, through its president Domingo Egon Cayosa, has warned that the ATB contains provisions that run counter to the Constitution, such as its creation of an Anti-Terrorism Council.

Clothing the ATC with judicial powers, he said, violates the Constitution and the principle of check and balance.

Interviewed Monday by CNN Philippines, Cayosa said that if the President signs the ATB into law, “we have no other recourse but to bring to the Supreme Court the constitutional issues that need to be decided.”

Having certified the bill as urgent and needing speedy enactment, Duterte would be inconsistent to now veto it. Or he might try to veto only the provisions that, in hindsight, now appear to him to be unconstitutional or at least unpopular.

Another option is for the President not to act on it during the 30-day wait, after which period the bill would lapse into law. While he could say he did not sign it, such inaction smacks of moral cowardice.

Its lapsing into law will not stop critics from challenging it before the Supreme Court. The independence of the tribunal, a majority of whose members are Duterte appointees, will be put to a test again.

The proposed Anti-Terrorism Council hangs like an arm of the Executive department. Chaired by the executive secretary, it is composed of the secretaries of justice, foreign affairs, national defense, the interior and local government, and finance, and the national security advisor.

Cayosa asked: “Can the Congress create a new agency that is not a court, not part of the judiciary, and give it judicial power?”

He noted: “If they (the council) designate you as a terrorist or terrorist organization, based on probable cause, that is a signal and excuse for law enforcers to arrest, conduct surveillance, limit your travel and even the (Anti-Money Laundering Council) to freeze your assets, and the detention may be allowed to a maximum of 24 days without court charges.”

“It should not be that law enforcers would decide who can be arrested. That is why that is given to the Judiciary, given to an independent co-equal body. That’s check and balance. In the hands of an abusive government, it can still happen.”

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines-Committee on Basic Ecclesial Community (CBCP-BEC) has also expressed opposition to the Anti-Terrorism Bill.

“We continue to hope that our government officials will listen to the growing voices of the poor and marginalized and the concerned citizens – their constituents and true bosses – who gave them the privilege and power to craft and enact laws based on right reason and good intention for the benefit of all and not just the selected few,” the CBCP-BEC said.

The University of the Philippines Diliman executive committee said the measure contains legal provisions that contravene the democratic spirit of the Constitution.

The UP Diliman executive committee – composed of the chancellor, vice chancellor and deans of the various academic units – said the measure would not eliminate terrorism by its roots.

Jesuits and Lasallian brothers, who operate Ateneo and La Salle schools, call on Duterte to listen to the public outcry against the bill. The University of Santo Tomas said its questionable provisions would weaken the exercise of civil liberties, with harmful results.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 11, 2020)

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