By Raymund Besa – JD1 and Nichole Lavides – JD1

On September 11, 2001, Al Qaeda terror group members hijacked four airplanes and carried out suicide attacks against the United States. Two of the planes were flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, a third plane hit the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, and the fourth plane failed to reach the intended target, the US Capitol, and crashed in a field in rural Pennsylvania. A total of 2,996 American lives were lost during that tragic day. The event triggered the commencement of the so-called “Global War on Terror”. The 9/11 attacks will forever remain as the greatest eye opener of modern history, that even the United States which has the strongest and most advance military in human history was attacked in their own soil, and brought to their knees by 19 Al Qaeda terrorists. Since September 11, 2001, more than 140 governments around the world have passed counterterrorism legislation or amended existing counterterrorism laws.

The Anti-Terror Act of 2020 is the Philippines’ own counterterrorism measure, it is considered as an upgraded and more comprehensive version of the Human Security Act of 2007. Though it was met with much controversy and outrage from government critics, the havoc and trauma caused by the Marawi siege was enough justification for congress to counter the cloak-and-dagger nature of terrorism. The five-month long Marawi Siege exposed the gaps and lapses of the Human Security Act of 2007; on 30 May 2020, the House Committee on Public Order and Safety, and the Committee on National Defense and Security submitted House Bill 6785 with the intention of repealing and amending the Human Security Act of 2007. In the 2019 Global Terrorism index, the Philippines is ranked as the Ninth country most negatively impacted by terrorism.  The rampancy of acts of terror, as well as the Philippines’ international commitments which necessitates the passage of this law as crucial and critical to our peace and order situation.

With the Philippines carrying on its shoulders the longest continuous armed insurgency currently existing in the world, terrorism have proven itself to be very difficult to expose and uncover, and much more to prosecute. For more than 60 years now, whether in Luzon, Visayas, or Mindanao, our country has been constantly reeling from the threats of communist NPA terrorists, and radical Islamist terrorists. The threat of terrorism is a very real problem which could happen anytime for millions of Filipinos. Indeed, terrorists in the Philippines doesn’t know any time or place, and chooses no victim.

In June 26, 2019, an Abu Sayyaf terrorist carried out a suicide bombing attack in Indanan, Sulu. The perpetrator was later identified as Norman Lasuca, a Filipino. Unlike the the two past cases of suicide bombing which involved foreign nationals with the cooperation of the local Abu Sayyaf Group, the Indanan bombing is believed to be a wholly local operation, and Norman Lasuca is placed on record as the first Filipino suicide bomber.

What is terrorism according to the Anti-Terror Act of 2020?

Under the new law, Terrorism as committed by any person who, within or outside the Philippines, regardless of the stage of executions:

1. Engages in any acts intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to any person, or endangers a person’s life;

2. Engages in acts intended to cause extensive damage or destruction to a government or public facility, public place or private property;

3. Engages in acts intended to cause extensive interference with, damage or destruction to critical infrastructure;

4. Develops, manufactures, possesses, acquires, transports, supplies or uses weapons, explosives or of biological, nuclear, radiological or chemical weapons; and

5. Release of dangerous substance, or causing fire, floods or explosions

Arguably, when the purpose of such act, by its nature and context, is to intimidate the general public or a segment thereof, create an atmosphere or spread a message of fear, to provoke or influence by intimidation the government or any international organization, or seriously destabilize or destroy the fundamental political, economic, or social structures of the country, or create a public emergency or seriously undermine public safety, shall be guilty of committing terrorism and shall suffer the penalty of life imprisonment  without the benefit of parole.

In addition to providing a new definition of terrorism, the Act has the following significant provisions:

On warrantless arrests; a person suspected of committing terrorism may be arrested without a warrant upon a written authority from the Anti-Terrorism Council. A prior warrant of arrest issued by a judge is not necessary.

On surveillance and interception of communications; upon a written order from the Court of Appeals, private communications, data, and information of any person charged with or suspected of committing terrorism may be wiretapped, intercepted, recorded, or collected.

On waiver of bank secrecy; the Anti-Money Laundering Council has the authority to inquire into bank deposits and investments with any banking or non-bank financial institutions without a court order in case a person/group was designated as a terrorist/terrorist organization or upon issuance of a preliminary order of proscription.

On extra-territorial application; the Act also applies to any person who, although physically outside the territorial limits of the Philippines, commit the crime against Philippine citizens or persons of Philippine descent, where the citizenship or ethnicity was a factor in the commission of the crime or commit said crime directly against the Philippine government. In such a case, the Philippines may exercise jurisdiction only when the individual enters or is inside Philippine territory.

On removal of award for damages in case of acquittal; under the Human Security Act, upon acquittal, any person who is accused of terrorism shall be entitled to the payment of damages in the amount of PHP500,000 for every day that he or she has been detained or arrested. This provision was omitted from the Act and hence no longer applies.

The Divided Reaction

Together with the enactment of Republic Act No. 11479 or the Anti-Terror Act of 2020 last year, the strong support from Filipinos living in conflict areas and hot zones was met with its own share of opposition and outrage from various interest groups. As of this writing, there are currently 37 petitions currently awaiting judgement before the Supreme Court.

In the petitions, the most commonly raised issue is the provision on warrantless arrest. According to the implementing rules and regulations; a suspected terrorist may be detained for up to 24 days without the need for any charges being filed before a court. Petitioners should also consider that terrorism is an international problem, the Philippines is mandated to enact a comprehensive anti-terrorism law. The United Nations Security Council may sanction any state party of the UN charter if they do not follow their requirements. Compared to our other ASEAN neighbors, a 24-day warrantless arrest is bare minimum for a country with an existing armed insurgency happening. In Malaysia, their Special Measures Bill of 2012 allows pre-charge detention of 28 days. In Thailand, terror suspicion can constitute up 90 days of warrantless arrest, and in Singapore terror suspects can be extended up to 2 years without charge.

Aside from facing sanctions, the Philippines may turn into a training ground for foreign terrorists in the absence of a comprehensive anti-terrorism law. It bears noting, that the present law has an extraterritorial application which the Human Security Act of 2007 lacks, which means that it may also apply to non-Filipino citizens or terrorists situated outside the territorial limits of the Philippines. Considering the rampancy of entry of foreign Islamists into our porous southern borders, their actual participation in combat operations against our armed forces and their participation in bombing and suicide bombing incidents in the south, the new provisions on foreign terrorists and extraterritoriality of the new law is put into good effect.

From the Field

In an interview with 1Lt. Devon Balocnit, commanding officer of Charlie Company of the 94th Infantry Batallion Philippine Army based in Himamaylan City, we were able to ask him how the Anti-Terror Act of 2020 was applied here in Negros at a provincial level. “Here in Negros, if you base the timeline of when the Anti-Terror Law took effect, there were significantly more rebels that surrendered and returned to the fold of the law, than rebels that were killed in military operations. Many of these rebels are living normal lives again with their families. That is true here in Negros, in Region 6, and in most parts of the Philippines,” he said.

In our follow-up question, we asked if one year later into the actual application of the Anti-Terror Act of 2020, should ordinary citizens still have worries about the said law. “Contrary to what some progressive groups are trying to exaggerate, and what some mainstream media outlets are trying to convey to the public, the baseless claims and misinformation they are trying to link with the Anti-Terror Law is very different from its actual application in the field. The people in the hinterlands, the people that the NPAs often exploit, now know the truth that for development and progress to be possible, peace and order is the most essential requisite. Rest assured, the Philippine Army of 2021 is a mature organization, all our actions are within the bounds of the law. The real goal of the Anti-Terror Law is to sustain lasting peace,” he said.

Furthermore, we would like to quote Associate Justice Marvic Leonen in his interpellation of counsel for the petition Algamar Latiph during the oral arguments on the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020. “Regardless of how it is defined now, terrorism is a kind of act that we should not wait until it happens. We should give our law enforcers; the PNP, the ISAFP, and our other intelligence agencies the tools to detect, to prosecute, and to disperse and disturb actual incidents. And a committed terrorist; whether a rightist, a leftist, a religious extremist, or even an environmental anarchist, all of them when they are committed, while the act is doing, and while they have co-conspirators, it is important to cut their means so that an entire incident is disrupted.” Addressing the issues raised by leftist groups that the law may be used to silence legitimate dissent, Justice Leonen clarified that there are many shades of Marxism. “Extremism is different from terrorism. Extremism is a belief, terrorism is the method. A belief in this system is not terrorism. So, we punish the method but not the ideology,” he added.

Finally, there is no perfect law in deterring terrorism, but in the present time where the most dangerous terrorists like are spreading freely their radical ideology through social media, and virtually plotting attacks without them ever needing to step foot in the field. The Anti-Terror Act of 2020 is a proactive step of addressing a continuously evolving problem of terrorism.

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