Military pushes proposal to amend 'weak' anti-terrorism law

MANILA, Philippines – The military wants a tougher law against terrorism, and it reiterated its support for a proposal to amend the Human Security Act that could allow it to take more drastic action against terror suspects.

"We need this badly for us to be able to deter terrorism," Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Brigadier General Edgard Arevalo told reporters on Thursday, August 15.

Top of mind for the military is to remove a P500,000-fine for every day they detain a terror suspect who eventually gets acquitted by a judicial court.

They want to be able to detain terror suspects without an arrest warrant for 30 days instead of just 3, to give them more time to gather evidence and build cases to "secure convictions."

The Human Security Act of 2007 only allows groups, not individual persons, to be officially identified as terrorists. Arevalo said it should also be possible to tag individuals as terrorists based on their own offenses, whether or not they are linked to known terror groups.

"Glorifying" and "inciting" terrorism in public or on social media should also be penalized, Arevalo said, as well as recruiting members and providing "material support" to terrorists.

The current version of the law makes it difficult for the police and military to prosecute terror suspects, and is "more restrictive than empowering to security forces," Arevalo added.

The Senate on Tuesday, August 13, reopened deliberations on proposals to amend the Human Security Act of 2017.

The provisions lawmakers look to revise are similar to what the AFP has suggested, although Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has pushed for 60 days of warrantless detention of suspected terrorists.

Senators Panfilo Lacson, Imee Marcos, and Senate President Vicente Sotto III have each filed a version of the amended measure, with different provisions on the length of warrantless detention and authorized wiretapping of suspects, but all 3 do away with the P500,000-daily fine on detaining suspects who get acquitted of terror charges.

Three instances of suicide bombings in parts of Mindanao between July 2018 and June 2019, including one carried out by a Filipino, show that terrorism is an increasingly insidious threat to the country, Arevalo said, and it calls for a more stringent law.

"We are facing an exceptional risk to our security, that's why we require an uncommon solution," the military spokesman said, addressing concerns that the proposed amendments may infringe suspects' constitutional rights.

"We understand the apprehensions of our people especially on issues of human rights but we assure our people that your Armed Forces is a professional institution that adheres to the tenets of human rights and international law…. Trust your AFP," Arevalo said. – Rappler.com

JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.

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