Monday, 12 September 2011 14:33
Malacañang is pushing Congress to amend key provisions in the Human Security Act (HSA) of 2007 to boost the government’s anti-terrorism initiatives, strengthen prosecution of suspected terrorists and address possible abuse of the law by authorities.
Executive Secretary Paquito N. Ochoa Jr., who also chairs the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC), said on Saturday that the changes the Palace is seeking are designed to give more teeth to the law and make the measure consistent with existing international agreements and Philippine laws.
“The government recognizes that terrorism is a constant threat that requires us to be vigilant. After reviewing our counter-terrorism initiatives, we decided to focus on strengthening anti-terror legislation to make it more responsive to the threats posed by terrorists,” Ochoa said.
A bill proposing amendments to the HSA, which was enacted in 2007 in response to calls for stronger anti-terrorist legislation, is one of the priority legislative measures President Benigno Aquino III has asked congressional leaders to pass.
Ochoa said one of the major changes in the law the government wants lawmakers to consider is to further define terrorism as acts punishable under certain provisions of the Revised Penal Code with the intent, by its nature or context, to either sow and create a condition of fear and panic among the populace, or to coerce the government or an institution imbued with public interest to give in to certain demands.
Under the law, terrorism is punishable by 40 years imprisonment without the benefit of parole.
To strengthen prosecution, Ochoa said there is a need to remove sections of the HSA that require authorities to inform suspected terrorists that they are under surveillance and their bank accounts are subject of investigations, as well as the portion of the law that disallows the application of the law one month before and two months after an election.
“These provisions defeat the whole purpose of covert surveillance and investigations by the authorities,” he said. “We want these amended to make our law a more effective tool in our efforts to prevent terrorism.”
The Executive Secretary said Congress should consider modifying the HSA provision that entitles a suspected terrorist acquitted by a court or wrongly detained by authorities to claim damages of P500,000 per day for every day of detention, to P500,000 for the duration of the detention. The proposed monetary penalty is over and above the amounts provided in any other existing laws, he added.
A review of the law by the ATC also underscored the need to strengthen the HSA to guarantee the right of a person suspected of the crime of terrorism to counsel at any time of the day, and for foreign nationals, the right to communicate with a representative of his or her state.
To deter abuse of of the HSA, the ATC proposes that law enforcement agents be required to report within 30 days, to the CA division that authorized their surveillance and bank examinations, the results of their investigations––to allow the said CA division to assess the legitimacy of their operations.
“While our goal is to strengthen the law, amendments are also necessary to ensure that the law will not be abused. We believe that ensuring the security of our citizens should not come at the expense of their civil liberties,” Ochoa explained. (PNA)
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