The Philippine Anti-Terrorism Law, Republic Act No. 9372, euphemistically called “The Human Security Act of 2007”, is about to go into effect by mid-July.
Already the subject of much debate, it will be an even hotter issue by the time it is implemented on the ground. Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales has already caused a stir by his pronouncements that he expects media practitioners to be the legitimate targets of “surveillance” and “interception and recording of communications” (as provided for in Section 7 of R.A. 9372).
Gonzales’ provocative statements notwithstanding, the Human Security Act appears to have enough safeguards, if properly followed, to ensure that human rights are protected. For example, the authority “to track down, tap, listen to, intercept and record communication, messages, conversations, discussions o spoken or written words of any person suspected of the crime of terrorism or the crime of conspiracy to commit terrorism” (Section 8) can only be authorized by the Court of Appeals after probable cause is shown. Stiff penalties for unauthorized bugging and eavesdropping are to be imposed.
The law also provides for an Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC), composed of the Executive Secretary as chair and the Secretaries of Justice, Foreign Affairs, Interior and Local Government, Defense, Finance and the National Security Advisor. The ATC shall “assume the responsibility for the proper and effective implementation of the anti-terrorism policy of the country”.
Although the law allows the arrest and detention of suspects solely upon the authorization of the ATC, such detention must not go beyond three (3) days, after which the detainee shall be brought before the proper judicial authorities. In the event of an actual or imminent terrorist attack, detention beyond three days is lawful only upon judicial orders or a directive of an officer of the Human Rights Commission.
On the surface, this doesn’t look so bad, especially when compared to the more draconian measures undertaken by the United States. U.S. law authorizes secret prisons, harsh interrogation practices and military trials against suspected terrorists. Witness the prisoners held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Since the opening of the infamous detention camp after the September 11 terrorist attacks, not one of the several hundred prisoners held there has been afforded a trial. Detainees have been effectively thrown into a legal black hole, deprived of access to courts, legal representation and visits from relatives, friends or compatriots. In the U.K., terror suspects can be detained for up to 28 days without charges. Compared to how the big boys play it, our anti-terror bill is strictly sandlot.
Or is it ?