Opposition senator raises concerns over ‘draconian’ Anti-Terrorism Bill

“You have everything to become harbingers of change,” said Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, opposition senator and member of the Senate’s minority floor, in an online discussion organized by Santugon sa Tawag ng Panahon last June 15. 

The forum, titled Bayanihan Live: The Anti-Terrorism Bill, served as a platform for students from different universities to raise queries about the contentious House Bill No. 6875, or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020. 

Misplaced priority

“[The] timing is awful; it should not be the primary concern of the government today,” Pangilinan criticized the passage of the hotly-debated bill amid the country being in the middle of what he described as “probably the most challenging crisis that this generation has faced since World War II”. 

Walang mental and emotional stamina ang gobyerno na tutukan ang masalimuot na problema ng kalusugan at ng ekonomiya, kaya ang kaya niyang gawin ay takutin at gipitin ang mamamayan,” he said.

(The government does not possess the mental and emotional stamina to attend to these complex health and economic issues, so it resorted instead to inducing fear among the people.)

He disputed that the administration’s priorities are misplaced given the ongoing developments in the country. “Are they thinking of the people? What are they thinking?” Panglinan pressed, citing the continued shutdown of the embattled media network ABS-CBN despite the crucial need for information and employment. 

For Pangilinan, other helpful measures could have been attended to instead, saying, “Hindi ci-nertify ang extension ng Bayanihan [to Heal as One Act], wherein we were pushing for over P250-billion worth of interventions, pero ‘yung Anti-Terror [Bill] ci-nertify na urgent.” 

(The extension of the Bayanihan [to Heal as One Act] was not certified [as urgent].)

As of June 3, the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act will no longer be extended. It is supposed to be replaced, however, by Senate Bill No. 1564 or the Bayanihan to Recover as One Bill, but this remains stalled in the House of Representatives.

Dissecting the bill

Pangilinan stressed that the Anti-Terrorism Bill is not the solution to address security concerns in the country. “This anti-terror measure precisely is the draconian, kamay na bakal approach to governance,” he asserted. 

(This anti-terror measure precisely is the draconian, iron hand approach to governance.)

According to Section 29 of the new bill, an Anti-Terrorism Council composed of Cabinet members appointed by the President would be given the power to arrest people it designates as “terrorists” without a judicial warrant and would be allowed to detain them for a period of up to 14 days, which can be extended for another 10 days. This, Pangilinan explained, would allow the executive branch to usurp the judiciary’s power to issue written arrests.

The senator pointed out that the preliminary proscription procedure for terrorist organizations is another red flag. “[The court], within a 72-hour period from the time a petition [is] filed, can designate an organization as a terrorist organization even if it [has] not been able to defend itself,” he said. 

The anti-terror legislation also poses a threat to freedom of speech and expression, he added, citing that Section 9 of the bill includes speech and writing as possible means for incitement to commit terrorism. Noting several instances where the administration had targeted dissenters, Pangilinan affirmed that the bill is liable to abuse. As of June 17, the bill remains unsigned by President Rodrigo Duterte.

Inciting change

Asked on what could be done to improve the bill, Pangilinan said that it must be brought to the Supreme Court to raise the provisions he believed are in violation of the 1987 Constitution. He added, though, that doing so may not guarantee any changes to the bill.

“It’s the same Supreme Court that looked the other way and did not act on [Sen. Leila] de Lima’s detention…that ousted [former] Chief Justice [Maria Lourdes] Sereno…that did not stop the Marcos burial,” he pointed out. “With that kind of Supreme Court, you just hope for the best.”

For Pangilinan, the youth hold the key—“When young people are inspired, committed, and mobilized, regimes tremble and the direction of nations are changed. Don’t underestimate your power.” In addition to urging the youth to continue educating themselves and others, Pangilinan advised them to become registered voters for the upcoming local and national elections. 

“We have to make a difference; we have to matter, and we have to fight for what we believe in,” he declared, encouraging continued mobilization and unity despite threats. “If fear is infectious, so [are] bravery and courage.”

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