Opinion

Another law vs terrorism

Another law vs terrorism

In the years following the horrific terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001, governments moved to improve the legal weapons against violent extremism.

The Philippines, which became one of the fronts in the global war on terror, was no exception. The country had been grappling for a decade with the violence sown by the Abu Sayyaf. On Dec. 30, Rizal Day 2000, simultaneous bombings in Metro Manila killed over 20 people. The attacks were perpetrated by the Southeast Asian terror cell Jemaah Islamiyah together with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

So lawmakers crafted a new law to deal specifically with terrorism, with several provisions patterned after those being newly implemented by other countries facing extremist violence. The result was Republic Act 9372, the Human Security Act of 2007. RA 9372, however, was so watered down by concerns over possible human rights abuses that it left no room for mistakes in the course of legitimate law enforcement. Under the law, one mistake could land the most honest, competent and well-meaning cop in prison for over a decade. Every day of wrongful detention would also cost the law enforcement agency P500,000.

Little wonder then that RA 9372 languished largely unused as the anti-terrorism weapon that its proponents had hoped it would be. The country has since suffered numerous other bombings, arson and ransom kidnappings perpetrated by terrorist groups. Now comes a new measure, passed on third and final reading this week by the Senate, that its proponents hope will serve as that weapon.

Among other things, Senate Bill 1083 allows law enforcers to detain and question terrorism suspects for up to 14 days without formal charges. This can be extended for another 10 days. Surveillance of terror suspects can be conducted for up to 60 days with the approval of the Court of Appeals, with a 30-day extension. SB 1083, approved by 19 senators, also takes out the provision on the P500,000 in damages for wrongful detention.

A counterpart bill is still needed from the House of Representatives before this measure becomes law. When the bicameral conference hammers out the final version, lawmakers must consider whether the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, with reasonable safeguards against abuses, can be implemented. Too much time, effort and public funds are expended on laws whose unrealistic provisions render them useless.