Press Release
January 18, 2007

By Sen. Nene Pimentel

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 alarum 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.

Makapili method

The use of hooded ratters, stool pigeons, if you will, or faceless informers who can trigger the arrest and detention without judicial warrant of persons suspected of having committed terrorism recalls the evil facets of the Spanish Inquisition of the 14th century or the Makapili era during the Japanese occupation of our country. Those finger-pointers are technically witnesses against the suspect who he or she wont be able to confront as required by Sec. 14, Art. III of the Constitution. Obviously, the use of anonymous witnesses has no place in a modern, democratic society.

The great danger is that once the Bill becomes law, unless refined, it will cripple the human rights and curtail the civil liberties of any person who is pointed to as a suspect in the crime of terrorism.

Bill of Rights, undermined

Of the 22 sections of the Bill that cover suspects in the crime of terrorism, four sections severely undermine the constitutional guarantees in the Bill of Rights. These are sections 7, 18, 26 and 38.

1. Sec. 7 authorizes the surveillance, interception and recording of communications, conversations, messages of persons suspected of the crime of terrorism.

The section legitimizes the police surveillance of the movements of the suspects of the crime, the surreptitious search of their homes, offices and places of leisure, and the electronic recording of their communications by methods that include such advance technology as magic lanterns, trace and trap, and other devices.

2. Sec. 18 allows the arrest without judicial warrant and the subsequent detention of any person suspected of the crime of terrorism. Originally the detention was for not more than 15 days but as amended, it has now been reduced to not more than 3 days.

The section legalizes police arrest and incarceration of suspects upon the mere say so of their informants or assets.

3. Sec. 26 empowers the police or law enforcement officials by order of the Court of Appeals to examine the deposits, placements, trust accounts, assets and records of a person suspected of the crime of terrorism.

The examination may be done ex-parte, that is, behind the back of or without notice to the person concerned.

The hazardous import of the section to the human rights and civil liberties of people may not be felt unless it is tied up with the fourth section we had adverted to earlier and that is Section 38 of the Bill.

4. Sec. 38 authorizes the seizure and sequestration of the bank deposits, placements, trust accounts, assets and records of a suspect of the crime of terrorism.

The section also sanctions the seizure and sequestration of the suspects moneys, businesses, transportation and communication equipment and other implements, and properties of whatever kind and nature.

It is vital to note that the person whose properties of whatever kind and nature are seized and sequestered under the section is someone who is not yet convicted of the crime of terrorism. He or she is not even accused of terrorism. He or she is, to put it bluntly, a mere suspect.

Due Process, thrashed

In these sections, the Bill thrashes, at the very least, the constitutional provisions that deal with due process.

Specifically, these are Sections I and Section 14 of Article III of the Constitution that has to be read in relation to Section 12 of the same article.

Sec. 1 mandates that: No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law;

Sec. 14 states that: In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall be presumed innocent until the contrary is proved, xxx (have the right) to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against him, xxx to meet the witnesses face to face; and

Sec. 12 (1) provides that: Any person under investigation for the commission of an offense shall have the right to be informed of his right to remain silent and to have competent and independent counsel preferably of his own choice. Xxx These rights cannot be waived except in writing and in the presence of counsel.

Threatening incidents

But under the provisions of the Bill, the police or law enforcement officials may subject a person simply SUSPECTED of terrorist activities to the following:

1. Surveillance of his or her movements without or with a judicial warrant obtained in secret (ex-parte). Even now, in the absence of an Anti-Terrorism Law, suspects not only of terrorism but of other crimes as well are being placed under surveillance without judicial warrants.

2. Recording of his or her communications, messages, conversations verbal or written with a judicial warrant secured ex-parte;

3. Search of his or her house, papers and effects with a judicial warrant secured ex-parte;

4. Seizure, sequestration and freezing of his or her properties of whatever kind ex-parte; and

5. Arrest and detention without a judicial warrant.

The net effect of these activities whether done together or separately is to deprive even a SUSPECT in terrorist cases of his or her liberty and property without due process of law. And that makes the Bill patently defective, clearly impermissible, and fatally flawed for violating the Constitution.

Rid Bill of impurities

As such, the Bill is an abomination to a democratic society.

Happily, the Anti-Terrorism bill cannot supersede what the Constitution mandates for the protection of the rights of people.

We submit that those rights must be upheld, protected and enhanced rather than curtailed, diminished and demeaned as the Bill proposes to do.

We need the help of the people and of our colleagues in the Senate to rid the Bill of its impurities so that we may secure the country against the scourge of terrorism but without sacrificing our people's basic liberties and fundamental freedoms.

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