Terrorism knows no boundaries, economic classes and races. It is morphed in several dimensions, that is why it is hard to legislate the means to control and prevent the same. The world today is so different that the argument about terrorists versus freedom fighters is no longer relevant. Countries are passing anti-terrorism measures to respond to critical cells operating in their territories.
Note: This column originally appeared in The Manila Times on June 9, 2020.
There’s much ado about terrorism these days because of what some claim to be a stealthy way of passing legislation on the matter in the 18th Congress. The point being made is that in this coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic, the focus of Congress should be on public health and the economic recovery. But one should look at the present legislative process as truly limited in terms of access and deliberation. Access is now defined as limited to online hearings and more on working in the background with the committee secretaries and their staff as the point of contact of advocates. Deliberations, on the other hand, are held in online sessions, which are largely controled by the connectivity provided by telecommunications companies that have never considered thinking outside the box.
In one stroke of the presidential pen, Anti-Terrorism legislation was certified on June 1, 2020; the letter suspending the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States was also dated June 1 and released on the night of June 2. There must be something in the terrain that prompted President Rodrigo Roa Duterte (PRRD) to come out strongly on security matters on that date. When clear and present danger is present during the pandemic, government has to move fast and cripple the enemy faster. Covid-19 has been the cover for ground movements and key establishments have been considered, though not hardened. Clearly, PRRD moved to secure regional as well as internal security under the cover of Covid-19.
Terrorism knows no boundaries, economic classes and races. It is morphed in several dimensions, that is why it is hard to legislate the means to control and prevent the same. The world today is so different that the argument about terrorists versus freedom fighters is no longer relevant. Countries are passing anti-terrorism measures to respond to critical cells operating in their territories. The homeland is important like never before and it has become the internal security layer that “works in the civilian sphere to protect a nation within, at and outside its borders.” Homeland security’s stated goal is to prepare for, prevent and respond to domestic emergencies, particularly terrorism.
Legislating anti-terrorism is nothing new in any country. Often, the legislation is reactionary, followed by specific bombings and assassinations. Most legislation on anti-terrorism “usually includes specific amendments allowing the state to bypass its own legislation when fighting terrorism-related crimes, under alleged grounds of necessity.” The oft-repeated criticism is “anti-terrorism legislation endangers democracy by creating a state of exception that allows authoritarian style of government.” But terrorism has been in the international agenda since 1934, when the League of Nations, the predecessor of the United Nations (UN), began work on a convention for the prevention and punishment of terrorism. Adopted in 1937, it never came into force. There is no one way of defining terrorism. It has evolved as situs-specific.
Today, there are 15 counter-terrorism international conventions in force. On Sept. 8, 2006, the UN General Assembly even adopted a “global counter-terrorism strategy.” There are even regional conventions. The European Union has several anti-terrorist legislation in place and more than 20 nations have passed their respective legislation to curb terrorism. The US alone has 10 federal laws, while the state of Ohio has its own Patriot Act. China has its Anti-Terrorism Act enacted in 2015 and the most controversial parts are that of restrictions on the operation the internet and technology-based companies.
In our jurisdiction, we passed the Human Security Act of 2007, aimed at tackling militants in the southern Philippines. Thirty days of warrantless detention are authorized. The law allowed eavesdropping on suspects, as well as access to bank accounts for authorities. Convictions can result in 40-year prison sentences, but compensation is provided in case of miscarriage of justice. Under this law, terrorism is defined as “sowing and creating a condition of widespread and extraordinary fear and panic among the populace in order to coerce the government to give in to an unlawful demand (Section 3, Republic Act 9327).” There is also Republic Act 10168 or the “Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act of 2012.” Before causing much noise and alarm, let’s check how these two laws were implemented. Were there abuses?
Was there a rush in passing the legislation? No, there was none. It was in fact part of the legislative agenda of PRRD. It was in the Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022. However, the 18th Congress did act with amazing swiftness, especially the bigger chamber.
Senate Bill 1083 was filed in September 2019 by Senate President Vicente Sotto 3rd. There were two other versions, which were consolidated and these were the versions of Senators Panfilo Lacson and María Imelda Josefa Marcos under Committee Report 9, dated October 2019. It was approved on third reading in February 2020, with 19 senators voting in favor and two voting against. It was sent to the House of Representatives for concurrence on the same date. Covid-19 came in March 2020. A briefing came out May 2020. And PRRD issued a certification dated June 2020.
The House of Representatives chose to pass the bill last June 3, adopting the Senate version by a vote of 168 “yes,” 36 “no” and 29 abstentions. It should be noted though that the counterpart, House Bill 6875, was filed by Rep. Jericho Nograles only in May 2020. Connect the dots and listen to the rustling of the bamboo trees and you will see something was percolating and continues to boil. A country’s economy crippled by Covid-19 can’t withstand a shock in its system if government will not move fast on the security front.
The signaling made by an embassy on May 17 and the intelligence reports from the ground are actionable information that needed a strong hand to counter. But when Marawi remains as it is and the promises made have not been realized, it would be hard to contain the march of the infidels in our territory if we do not finish rebuilding Marawi.
“Everyone’s worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there’s really an easy way: Stop participating in it.”
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