Statement of CHR spokesperson, Atty Jacqueline Ann de Guia, on the proposed anti-terrorism bill

Statement of CHR spokesperson, Atty Jacqueline Ann de Guia, on the proposed anti-terrorism bill

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) is against terrorism. We recognise its effects have implications on our rights and freedoms—both individually and as a collective community.

As such, we look upon the government to fulfil its duty in protecting its citizens from harm, especially from groups who seek to perpetuate senseless violence, which oftentimes result to loss of innocent lives.

However, in doing so, we cannot sacrifice our human rights.

The broad definition of ’terrorism’ in the proposed bill paves the road for possible abuse as it tends to blur the distinction between terroristic activities and ordinary crimes already punishable by the Revised Penal Code and other pertinent laws.

Such overreach may be seen as disproportionate and highly intrusive as it allows for room for discretion which could be possibly used to limit substantial freedoms, including expression of dissent and critical perspectives most especially by civil society and human rights groups, under a democracy.

With the vague and overly broad definition, authorities could wantonly tag exercise of rights as terrorist expressions under this Act by even defining the crime of ‘inciting to terrorism’—referring to ‘means of speeches, proclamations, writings, emblems, banners, or other representations.’

And at the moment groups and individuals are tagged as ‘terrorists,’ CHR is also wary of the provision allowing detention of suspects without judicial warrant.

Prolonged detention under the bill—up to 14 calendar days, with the possibility of extending it to 10 more days—may result to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or torture, which does not only pertain to acts of interrogation, but also to conditions experienced by the suspect.

The said proposal is in contrast with the present legal standards where an individual may be detained without warrant only for 12 hours, 18 hours, or 36 hours for light, less grave, or grave offenses respectively, in due consideration of a suspect’s physical and mental health, before being brought before a public prosecutor to determine the validity of the arrest made.

It is more concerning that, given the proposed extended period of detention, the said Act further absolves authorities from any ‘criminal liability for the delay in the delivery of detained persons to the proper judicial authorities’ despite the Constitutional guarantee of presumption of innocence and due process.

With this provision, the bill also grants to the Executive branch a power usually reserved for the courts as part of the Judiciary intended to serve as a check-and-balance mechanism against abuse.

In the end, CHR recognises that terrorism is an evolving threat to all. Terrorists, with acts affronting human dignity, must then face the full force of the law. The government must be equally protected against any forms of senseless violence seeking to destabilise it so it may effectively look out for the welfare of the people.

At the same time, we equally stress that laws against terrorism are enacted and implemented in defense of human rights. We must then continue to be vigilant that it is terroristic acts that this bill is seeking to curb, not the legitimate exercise of rights and freedoms. And for instances of abuse, those who have used their position and power in excess must also be held to account.