One of the issues being raised by the Opposition in the coming 2022 election is the enactment of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, which is an updated version of the Human Security Act of 2007. It has come under scrutiny because its main sponsors are Senate President Tito Sotto and Sen. Ping Lacson, who are running as a ticket for President and Vice-President under the NPC-Reporma-NUP-UNA coalition. Lacson and Sotto have been tagged as “Duterte-enablers” by the Opposition as a result. Never mind that the two have been vocal in their description of their tandem as neither pro-Opposition or pro-Administration, but pro-Philippines. The bill passed the Senate last February 26, 2020, with Senators Sonny Angara, Nancy Binay, Pia Cayetano, Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, Grace Poe, Imee Marcos, Manuel “Lito” Lapid, Joel Villanueva, Cynthia Villar, Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao, Win Gatchalian, Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, Richard Gordon, Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, Bong Revilla, Francis “Tol” Tolentino, Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, Majority Leader Migz Zubiri and Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III voting in the affirmative while Senators Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan and Risa Hontiveros dissented.
The Opposition would like to make the law an election issue because they claim that its provisions violate the human rights of an individual who is identified as a person of interest. What are objectionable to the Opposition and its allies are the provisions which severely curtail the ability of suspected terrorists and terrorist networks to operate once preliminarily identified by the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC), which is tasked with implementing the Anti-Terror Law and the authority of the ATC to order a freeze on their bank account and request for wiretaps from the judiciary. The members of the ATC are the Executive Secretary, who is the Chairman, the National Security Adviser as the Vice-Chairman, the Secretary’s of Foreign Affairs, National Defense, Interior and Local Government, Finance, Information and Communications Technology, Justice and the Executive Director of the Anti-Money Laundering Council Secretariat.
“We think this is against the constitution,” said human rights lawyer Jose Manuel Diokno. “Given the broader definition of terrorism, the administration’s critics could be tagged as suspected terrorists.” Opposition Congressman Edcel Lagman said Duterte was “tightening the noose on suspected terrorists at the expense of the protection of human rights and civil liberties.” In the meantime, Senate Minority Floor Leader Franklin Drilon of the Liberal Party said “I signed it on the basis of my best judgment that strikes a balance between protecting our people against abuses by the state and protecting the state itself. All I can say is I tried my best. I can face anyone and say I am not favoring anyone.It was in my desire to have a balance between the desire to prevent terrorism and balance it with the rights of the people. I have done my best.”
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At present, there are thirty-seven (37) pending petitions at the Supreme Court questioning the Constitutionality of its provisions. The 37 petitioners, clustered into six groups for the purpose of final position papers, have all submitted their memoranda to the High Court on June 25. The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) has also submitted its 800-page memorandum in defense of the law, which means the countdown has started in the Supreme Court. “By the sheer number of petitions it might take some time before the Court can at least prepare its draft, but hopefully within the year perhaps we can have a decision on [those] 37 petitions before the year ends,” said Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo in a chance interview last July 8.
Sen. Ping Lacson was initially included in the list of Presidential candidates that convenor group 1Sambayan was considering in an effort to come up with one candidate to represent the opposition against the administration in the May 2022 polls. Lacson removed himself from consideration by way of a formal letter to former Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, the lead convenor. Lacson said that after seeing Carpio’s television interview, “I have been under the impression that 1Sambayan colation has effectively precluded a possible association with this representation, since you made it clear, as its lead convenor, that it would be ‘inconsistent’ and ‘incongruous’ for the group to endorse, let alone, be identified with somebody who is one of the authors and the principal sponsor” of the Anti-Terrorism Law. While you have explicitly and repeatedly made a remark during the interview that you have ‘no problem’ with me running again as a senator in the upcoming national elections, I could not possibly reconcile how much would be the case if it has been publicly disclosed by the former Associate Justice that his misgivings are anchored on this representation’s stand in earnestly sponsoring a measure in the exercise of my sworn duty as one of the elected lawmakers of the land,” Lacson added.
Subsequent events have led to the present imbroglio between the Lacson-Sotto camp and that of the Opposition as the two went ahead with their formal declaration that they were running for President and Vice-President after talks with Vice-President Leni Robredo failed. The impression given the public was Lacson initiated the talks but Sotto later clarified that it was the Vice-President’s Chief of Staff who sent a text message to his counterpart in Sotto’s office to arrange the meeting. Sen. Lacson later disclosed that the Vice-President rejected his proposal outright at the onset without even taking the time to give it serious consideration.
The Anti-Terror Bill has become more essential in light of the Taliban regaining control of Afghanistan after the US’s hasty pullout. Terrorist groups again have access to a safe haven from which they could operate from and plan attacks in the future. The problem with the Opposition is they refuse to look at the law from the point of view of national security, giving preference over the issue of civil liberties. It has been made worse by their supporters labeling the Lacson-Sotto tandem as “Duterte-enablers” even if the the sponsorship of the law was made clearly in the interest of protecting the Republic and its citizens from threat of terrorism, domestic or otherwise.
National security is also an election issue seeing as how we are caught in the middle of the rivalry between the US and China in the region. The Anti-Terror Bill is an update over the Human Security Act of 2007. It is clear that it is not meant to strike down civil liberties but to prevent acts of terrorism and even organized crime syndicates from endangering the citizens of the Republic.
As Sen. Lacson said, “we are neither pro-Administration or pro-Opposition. We are pro-Philippines.” Lacson added that he and Sotto would stick to the conduct of an issues-based campaign instead of the usual mudslinging and black propaganda saying that the Filipino people deserve nothing less during this crucial juncture of our nation’s history. The challenges the country faces needs a serious, credible and responsible leader.
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