RP’s Anti-Terrorism Bill ‘Most Terrifying Piece of Legislation’

Jan. 23, 2007

In the wake of the signing earlier this month of an Asean Convention on Counter-Terrorism, the Arroyo administration has been pushing for the passage of the anti-terrorism bill now pending in the Philippine Senate, arguing that it would strengthen the country’s war against terror and would serve as a model for other Asean nations. But Senate minority leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. argues that Senate Bill No. 2137 (pdf) is “the most terrifying piece of legislation ever submitted for the consideration of the Senate.”

By Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr.
Philippine Senate

The Anti-Terrorism Bill embodied in Senate Bill No. 2137 is, arguably, the most terrifying piece of legislation ever submitted for the consideration of the Senate.

Like Draco, the 7th century Athenian lawgiver, who prescribed tough punishments even for civil debts, the Bill treats with equal severity a person who is a mere suspect in the crime of terrorism and another who is actually accused or convicted of the crime.

As of December 16, 2006, the Bill had 56 sections.

In fairness, 34 of the 56 sections seek to prevent official abuse in the implementation of the Bill or are innocuous provisions as far as these relate to persons suspected of the crime of terrorism.

The other 22 sections, namely: 7, 8, 9, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 26, 27, 28, 30, 34, 35, 36, 39, 40, 41 and 42 refer specifically to suspects of the crime.

Severe sentences

But no matter what the nature of the liability of the person involved in the crime of terrorism might be, the jail terms prescribed for it are tough. For instance, the early sections of the Bill, namely, Sections 3, 4, 5, and 6 penalize the principal culprits with reclusion perpetua, or loosely, life imprisonment. In descending order, the other felons get shorter sentences like reclusion temporal in its maximum period or imprisonment of 17 years, 4 months and 1 day to 20 years for the co-conspirators; reclusion temporal in its medium period or imprisonment if 14 years, 8 months and 1 day to 17 years for those who acted as accomplices and prision mayor in its maximum period or imprisonment of 8 years and 1 day to 12 years for those who were after-the-fact accessories.

The Bill, thus, intends and rightly so to rigorously punish those who commit terrorism.

Most scary flaw

What is most scary, however, is that as indicated above the bill harshly deals even with those who are merely suspected of being involved in the crime. These are individuals who are not even formally charged before the court or convicted in court for the crime.

It is a flaw of the Bill that it allows some unnamed persons or anonymous informers to tag others as participants in or plotters of the crime of terrorism. The Bill does not require that the identity of the informer be revealed to and be recorded by the law enforcement authorities. Neither is it a requisite that the competence of the informer as a reliable source of information be first established before the authorities use the full force of the law to roll over the suspect. Nor does the Bill define the kind of responsibility the informer has to bear in the event that the information he or she passed on to the authorities turns out completely baseless. In fine, the Bill grants the informer a virtually boundless power to cause injury to others by the simple expedience of labeling them as suspects of the crime of terrorism without incurring any responsibility for it.

The cavalier way by which the Bill tolerates suspects to be dragged into the criminal web of terrorism on the mere say so of anonymous informers should raise alarm bells. For in this country as of today, even without any anti-terrorism legislation, people are already being picked up, detained and tortured or, worse, killed extra-judicially.

comments powered by Disqus