Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez has assured American lawmakers critical of the new anti-terrorism law that it will not violate human rights in the country.
Romualdez, in a letter on July 16 to the 45 lawmakers opposing the law, explained the Anti-Terrorism Act "expressly excludes legitimate exercises of the freedom of expression and to peaceably assembly engaging in advocacy, protest, dissent, mass action and other similar exercises that are not intended to cause death or serious physical harm to a person, to endanger a person’s life, or to create a serious risk to public safety."
"The Philippines remains committed to the protection of civil and political liberties as well as human rights. The Anti-Terrorism Act itself strongly mandates that human rights shall be absolute and protected at all times," Romualdez said.
The law, he added, provides significant safeguards to prevent abuses, such as in the detention of persons without warrant.
"Its prescribed period on warrantless detention is also not materially dissimilar from the anti-terrorism laws of other countries, including those in the West," he said, adding the power of determining with finality who are to be regarded as terrorists resides with the judicial system through proscription.
Echoing the concerns of several sectors in the Philippines, US Representative Janice Schakowsky of Illinois called the law a new weapon to suppress dissent in the country.
Schakowsky is among the 45 congressmen who asked the Philippine government to repeal the law.
"We believe it's already being used to stifle peaceful dissent and target civil society including human and labor rights groups in the Philippines," she said.
Romualdez said criticisms and concerns by certain groups have "diluted the real legislative intent behind the law, which is to uphold the policy of the state to protect life, liberty, and property from terrorism."
"The law properly defines what are to be considered terrorist acts, predicated by certain essential conditions, i.e., violent actions and violent purpose," the envoy said.
He said the Human Security Act of 2007, the law that the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 seeks to replace, "has been woefully ineffective in addressing the terrorist threat in the Philippines."
The old law has only enabled one conviction since coming into force, he added.
"This despite numerous acts perpetuated, and falling under the rubric of terrorism, by persons and groups since its enactment," Romualdez said.
"The Anti-Terrorism Act aims to plug the loopholes in the Human Security Act by putting in place a more effective legal framework that would enable a criminal justice response to terrorist acts beyond that allowed for by the Revised Penal Code."
He also stressed that the fight against terrorism "is one standing and defining area" of Philippines-US defense and security cooperation.
"What the law signifies is the Philippine government’s strong resolve to combat terrorism and to implement a more effective and comprehensive approach to such a serious threat that knows no borders," Romualdez said.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Thursday hit back at "misinformed" US lawmakers who urged the Philippine government to repeal the law, saying they should mind their own business.
“Offhand, I would say they are misinformed. Why don’t they look at their own laws? Iyong Homeland Security Act nila? Bago sila mamintas, napakahigpit nung sa kanila,” Sotto said.
Senator Panfilo Lacson on Friday questioned the moral ascendancy of some US Congress members to oppose and criticize the Philippines' anti-terror law.
"I wonder how many among those 50 or so members of the US Congress voted in favor of their own country's Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001... These US Congress members should shut up unless they admit to being a bunch of hypocrites," Lacson, principal sponsor of the recently-signed law, said in a statement.
The Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 will take effect midnight of July 18, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra confirmed Friday.
The law states it will take effect 15 days after its complete publication in the Official Gazette or in at least two newspapers of general circulation. It was published on July 3, making July 18 the 15th day, Guevarra said.
President Rodrigo Duterte signed the measure on July 3.
Guevarra said they are about to start drafting the implementing rules and regulations for the law. —KG, GMA News