Lacson tells IBP Anti-Terrorism Council has no judicial power; bill will combat terrorism in ‘swift, constitutional manner’

Robie de Guzman   •   June 17, 2020   •   289

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Panfilo Lacson has clarified the “misconceptions” of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) about the controversial proposed Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, Lacson said the measure aims to combat terrorism in a “swift, effective, and constitutional” manner.

In a letter-reply to IBP president Domingo Egon Cayosa, Lacson addressed the IBP’s concerns about the provisions of the bill, including the establishment of the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC).

“The Anti-Terrorism Bill speaks clear of our swift, effective, and constitutional policy against these acts of terror and against no one else but its perpetrators,” he said.

Lacson, who authored and sponsored the bill, also pointed out in his letter-reply that arrests cannot be made based on mere suspicion alone.

Lacson said the legislative intent was to allow warrantless arrests based on Rule 113, Section 5 of the Revised Rules of Court. The Senate deliberations of the bill never showed any intention to add another element to an arrest without warrant.

Hence, a warrantless arrest remains valid only in the following cases: (a) when the person to be arrested has committed, is actually committing, or is attempting to commit an offense; (b) when an offense has just been committed, and he has probable cause to believe based on personal knowledge of facts or circumstances that the person to be arrested has committed it; and (c) when the person to be arrested is an escaped prisoner.

He also noted in his letter-reply that “the authority in writing does not pertain to an order of arrest.”

“The ‘written authorization’ of the ATC is intended to be issued to duly designated deputies, i.e., law enforcement agents or military personnel specially tasked and trained to handle the custodial investigation involving violations of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 as proposed, considering the complexities and nature of terrorism,” he said.

Lacson, who chairs the Senate committee on national defense and security, added that Section 29 is premised on a valid arrest without warrant that complies with Section 5 of Rule 113, meaning the arrest is “immediate in nature.”

“With this, it is illogical and impractical that the ATC will issue an order of arrest to a law enforcement officer who is already authorized to conduct warrantless arrest under the Revised Rules of Court,” he said.

“Thus, I wish to overemphasize this to clarify all misconceptions on the alleged expansion of coercive power of ATC: ATC has no power to order an arrest.”

He also emphasized that the ATC has no authority to determine the period of detention in the case of warrantless arrest and decide on its extension.

“If the ATC has no authority to order the arrest, much more does it have the authority to determine the period of detention of the person arrested,” he said.

He likewise stressed that the proposed period of detention of up to 14 days and its extension by another 10 days is to be treated as a policy decision of Congress “after considering the unique nature and effects of the crime of terrorism as thoroughly explained during our public hearings and in plenary session.”

Still, he said, the determination of extending the suspect’s detention for another ten days “remains with the courts.”

He also maintained that the proposed 14-day period of detention of suspected terrorists is “reasonable and sufficient” especially in events similar to the Marawi Siege, the 9/11 suicide bombings, and the gruesome beheading of people by ISIS.

“We need not wait for similar events to occur before we realize that a three-day investigation is not enough,” he said.

The senator also said the bill does not authorize law enforcers to arrest, conduct surveillance or restrict travel, adding that the Anti-Money Laundering Council may issue a freeze order toward the property and funds of a designated terrorist.

Lacson also said that Section 45 of the bill is unequivocal in saying that “nowhere herein shall be interpreted to empower the ATC to exercise any judicial or quasi-judicial power or authority.”

“To properly interpret the nature of the power of the ATC, it would be erroneous, if not careless to rely on reading Section 29 alone. The rule on statutory construction says that the law must not be read in truancy parts, rather, its provisions must be read in relation to the whole law,” he said.

He stressed the power of the ATC to designate in Section 25 is not judicial in nature, but is an executive and administrative process, to impose targeted financial sanctions pursuant to the framework under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1371.

“Arrests, detention, and the limitation on travel are not the intended consequences of designation,” he noted.

“Let me reiterate that designation is a preventive measure intended to trigger the issuance of a freeze order to prevent designated terrorists from accessing funds that can be used to carry out a terrorist attack,” he added.

“I hope that this letter was able to shed light on the legislative intent with respect to some of the provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Bill that are being subjected to wrongful interpretations and misconceptions,” Lacson said.

The senator sent the letter in response to the IBP’s warning against possible “constitutional infirmities” in the proposed Anti-Terrorism bill.

Sotto, Lacson want fresh probe into alleged PhilHealth corruption

Robie de Guzman   •   July 24, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Friday said a fresh investigation should be conducted into the alleged corruption at the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (Philhealth) following the resignation of one of its officers.

“There must be a full blown Senate investigation. Allegations and denials abound therefore diligence is necessary,” Sotto said in a statement.

“Where there is smoke, there is fire!” he added.

Lawyer Thorrsson Montes Keith resigned from his post in PhilHealth citing “widespread corruption” in the agency as one of his reasons for quitting. He also said in his resignation letter that the mandatory payment of PhilHealth contribution by overseas Filipinos workers was “unconstitutional” and against his personal values to let OFWs “pay for the spillages” of the agency.

He also claimed that there is rampant and patent unfairness in the agency’s promotion process, and that his salary and hazard pay has not been on time since he started investigating Philhealth officers as its “anti-fraud legal officer.”

According to Senator Panfilo Lacson, he is now drafting a resolution seeking for an inquiry into the issue.

“I am now drafting a resolution calling for a Senate Committee of the Whole inquiry. As expressed by SP Sotto to me last night, this inquiry will be one of the Senate’s top agenda after our session resumes on Monday,” Lacson said in a separate statement.

Reports quoting sources said that corruption claims were the topic of an online meeting that led to a shouting match between Philhealth officials on Thursday evening.

“That such corruption occurred amid the COVID-19 crisis makes it more disgusting and abominable,” Lacson said.

“Nakakasuya na sobra. Needless to say, there is urgency that the Senate has to act on the matter immediately, as part of its oversight mandate, having passed the Universal Health Law,” he added.

Last year, the Senate launched a probe into alleged conflict of interest between PhilHealth and the Department of Health. The investigation also covered DOH contracts that went to pharmaceutical firms owned by relatives of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.

PhilHealth President and CEO Ricardo Morales earlier denied claims of widespread corruption in the agency and called on Keith to substantiate his allegations. He also said that Keith only raised the issue after his application for another post at the agency was turned down.

Morales also denied the alleged resignation of two other PhilHealth officers due to corruption allegations. He said his head executive assistant resigned to pursue his doctoral studies while a corporate counsel denied any news of quitting his post. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Harlene Delgado)

Anti-terror law takes effect today

Maris Federez   •   July 18, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Republic Act 11479 or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 takes effect today, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Friday (July 17), even in the absence of implementing rules and regulations (IRR).

Guevarra said the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) becomes effective 15 days after its publication in the Official Gazette and national newspapers on July 3.

Read: Duterte signs Anti-Terrorism bill into law

“The effectivity clause of the Anti-Terrorism Act states that the Act shall take effect 15 days after its publication in the official gazette or in at least two newspapers of general circulation. Considering that the law was published on July 3, it will take effect on July 18, which is the 15th day,” Guevarra told reporters on Friday as he rectified an earlier statement that the law would take effect on Sunday (July 19).

When asked why the law will take effect sans the IRR, Guevarra said, “the promulgation of the IRR is not a condition for the effectivity of the law.”

He added that some provisions of the ATA are self-executing such as the organization of the Anti-Terrorism Council.

The IRR will be drafted in consultation with law enforcement agencies and the military, and will be ready within 90 days, he said.

“But there are provisions where operational details need to be spelled out or standards clearly defined in the IRR for proper implementation of the law,” Guevarra also pointed out.

The DOJ chief stressed that “it will be more prudent for law enforcement agents to await the promulgation of the IRR.”

Once the draft has been approved, the secretary said “the IRR will likewise have to be published when it is done.”

“The DOJ and the Anti-Terrorism Council, in consultation with law enforcement agencies and military institutions, will promulgate the IRR for the implementation of the anti-terrorism law,” Guevarra said.

Various groups have filed several petitions before the Supreme Court against the Anti-Terrorism Act, seeking for issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO) on its implementation pending a resolution of questions regarding its constitutionality.

Read: More petitions vs. Anti-Terrorism Act filed in SC

Read: Palace on petitions vs. Anti-Terrorism Law: Leave it to Supreme Court

Among the groups who filed the petition before the High Court were that of lawyer Howard Calleja, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, law dean Mel Sta. Maria, and the Makabayan bloc led by Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate. — /mbmf

Several senators laud signing of Anti-Terror Act despite oppositions

Robie de Guzman   •   July 3, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Several senators have lauded President Rodrigo Duterte for signing the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 despite oppositions coming from different sectors.

“Much credit goes to PRRD (President Rodrigo Roa Duterte). With all the pressure coming from different directions against the signing of the Anti-Terrorism Bill into law, at the end of the day, it is his strong political will that mattered the most,” Senator Panfilo Lacson said in a statement Friday.

“I cannot imagine this measure being signed under another administration. If only for this, I take my hat off to the president,” he added.

Lacson, one of the principal authors and sponsor of the measure in the Senate, vowed that he would “exert extra effort in guarding against possible abuse in its implementation, notwithstanding all the safeguards incorporated in this landmark legislation.”

Senate President Vicente Sotto III also expressed elation over the enactment of the controversial bill.

“I am glad that the president has sifted through the rubble and saw the importance of the law!” he said in a message to reporters.

Senator Francis Tolentino also called the signing of the law as “very timely” and “historic” as the nation needed the measure.

“It just goes to show that a stable peace and order climate should go hand [in hand] with economic rejuvenation post COVID-19,” he added.

The new law repeals the Human Security Act of 2007 and penalizes those who will propose, incite, conspire, participate in the planning, training, preparation and facilitation of a terrorist act; as well as those who will provide material support to terrorists, and recruit members in a terrorist organization.

The measure allows suspected terrorists to be detained for up to 24 days without warrant. It also authorizes the Anti-Money Laundering Council to freeze the assets and accounts of individuals or groups tagged as terrorists.

Before it was enacted, the bill was met with widespread opposition from different groups who raised concern over its provisions that could be abused by authorities, stifle dissent and spur human rights violations.

But Sotto said the law has enough safeguards to prevent enforcers from abusing their authority.

“It’s full of safeguards but strong against terrorists. Unlike the old law, it was subject to abuse by the terrorists,” Sotto said.

Lacson has repeatedly defended the measure, saying it has enough protection to ensure the rights of those detained.

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