Laws can either be used for or against you because justice is blind. Unless proper judicial procedures are carried out, only then would we know who is innocent and who is guilty. Should the Anti-Terror Law (ATL) be ever used to “terrorize” an innocent law-abiding citizen, one should better know these things.
Lately, the ATL (Anti-Terror Bill before July 3) found itself creating a great political divide among Filipinos. Equipped with their own interpretations and reservations, the chaotic debate seems to persist for the worse. As of writing, a petition has already been made before the Supreme Court to issue an immediate temporary restraining order (TRO) to prevent the law from taking effect in 15 days.
Here are some public concerns about the law and its corresponding safety nets that you ought should know before it takes effect on July 18.
On the issue about Freedom of Speech, the Free Press, and Data Privacy
One evident misconception about the newly enacted law is the fear of the breach of privacy and the threat to free speech and the independent media since, under the newly signed law, state forces will now be allowed to conduct surveillance, interception, and recording of communication of individuals, groups, or associations suspected of terrorism.
It must be cleared that under Section 16 of ATL, officers of the law are prohibited to conduct surveillance, recording, or interception of communication without written authorization from the Court of Appeals. Likewise, the extraction of personal information or data of individuals or organizations from telecommunication service providers (TSP) or internet service providers (ISP) without proper authorization from the Court of Appeals is strictly penalized under the said law.
On peaceful gathering and protest
While critics claim the law is the government’s way of stifling critical voices and activism, it must be noted that it says otherwise. Under Section 4, the definition of Terrorism “shall not include advocacy, protests, dissent, stoppage of work, industrial or mass action, and other similar exercises of civil and political rights.” They are recognized to be an essential democratic right of an individual or group of persons for they are not intended to cause death or serious physical harm to or endanger a person, or cause serious risk to public safety.
Where it all gets tricky
Perhaps, where the conversation becomes gloomy is on the interpretation of section 25. Under the said clause, the designation of a Terrorist Individual, Groups of Persons, Organizations or Associations can only come from two sources: the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC).
While the UNSC has a well-vetted list of who are terrorists, the ATC however, can declare anyone a terrorist provided that they have a probable cause.
Furthermore, lawyers and their clients, doctors and their patients, journalists and their sources, and confidential business correspondence are strictly exempted from this clause. While section 43 of the ATL, penalizes the furnishing of false evidence, testimonies, and documents.
The only safeguard of the public that such clause will never be abused by any law enforcer, is the assurance that the arrest has proper written authorization from the ATC–for accountability sake. Beyond this clause, no other specific procedures or mechanisms were placed.
14-day (plus 10) detention
On the other hand, if one should get arrested because of ATL, it is important to remember that you have the right to be informed of the nature of your arrest, the right to remain silent, the right to seek a legal counsel, and the right to contact your immediate family members or nearest relatives as prescribed by Section 30 of law.
Section 29 also compels the arresting agent or military to inform in writing the nearest judge of the arrest and send the same report to the ATC and the Commission on Human Rights (CHR). Correspondingly, the detention officer must unfailingly give due regard to detainees who are elderly, pregnant, persons with disabilities, women, and children.
Moreover, the detention facility must at all times keep a custodial logbook that records the detainee’s health and physical condition, visitors, activities during detention, status, and treatment, among others as per Section 32.
Torture and coercion in investigation and interrogation are similarly illegalized under Section 33. All information or evidence resulting from such treatment shall be inadmissible in any judicial or court hearing.
Get to know your friends
Apart from the safety nets that we have magnified, there are other groups and individuals that will go the extra mile to defend your rights and attest your innocence should you ever be wrongfully arrested for terrorism. Among them are the following:
- Commission on Human Rights
- The Ombudsman
- Joint Congressional Oversight Committee
- Local and international civil rights groups (i.e Amnesty International, Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD), Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG)
- The free press
- Progressive academic institutions
- International community
- Your friends and family
Any officer of the law or public official who is proven guilty of using the ATL against an innocent person is subject to be criminally charged with grave misconduct with a minimum 10-year jail sentence. Apart from being dismissed in office, cancellation of his/her civil service eligibility, waiver of retirement benefits, and perpetual disqualification of holding any public office.
Be that as it may, the state must continue to do its responsibility to reassure the Filipino people that the law shall, and will, only be used for the greater good. And the people must always remain vigilant and prepared to use his/her political responsibility to hold its elected leaders accountable when abuses are made.