Top security officials proposed a 30-day detention period for terror suspects even without valid court order.
This proposal was made during the Senate’s Public Order and Dangerous Drugs Committee hearing chaired by Senator Panfilo Lacson on the proposed amendments to the Human Security Act (HSA) of 2007.
HSA prevents suspected terrorist from being detained for more than three days without the written approval of a municipal, city, provincial or regional official of a Human Rights Commission or judge of the municipal, regional trial court, the Sandiganbayan or a justice of the Court of Appeals nearest the place of the arrest.
General Carlito Galvez Jr., Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff, reasoned that the three-day reglementary period is not enough to retrieve information from captured suspected “hardcore” terrorists.
“Based on our experience, if we were able to capture a very ideologue bomber, more or less wala tayong makukuha (we would not get anything) in one week. Normally, it would take two weeks before we could break him,” he said.
He cited the case of the Isulan incident where the AFP was able to capture “supposed” bombers, but was unable to get any information from them.
“Because of our permissive laws, the bombers were able to be released from detention,” Galvez said.
Besides, being able to get the substantive and corroborating information, Galvez said the 30-day detention period for suspected terrorist is also a good “disruptive measure” to prevent further threats.
“Normally, terrorists act within a cell or in different cells. Thirty days is also a pre-emptive measure, wherein if there are also other co-conspirators that will have a simultaneous terrorist attack, that 30 days is a good disruptive measure for counteractions to prevent imminent attacks,” Galvez said.
“They can be a lone wolf or a pack of wolves, and sometimes deception is involved wherein a cell is meant to be captured to allow other cells to perpetrate a bigger attack. Thirty days would be enough to completely disrupt or completely defeat the threat,” he added.
Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) officer-in-charge Eduardo Año agreed with Galvez, saying: “Thirty days is actually enough time for the security sector to conduct all intensive investigations, follow up operations and counteractions.”
He, however, said it does not mean that the 30-day detention period would be used to the maximum.
“If we have already neutralized the plan and can already file charges, even less than 30 days is enough. But the 30 day-period guarantees that the security forces can do its job properly,” said Año, a former AFP chief.
National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) Director General Alex Paul Monteagudo, meanwhile, said an extended detention period is needed adding that the country is facing a totally different security landscape than when the HSA was first passed.
“When the law was passed, there was no such problem as extremism or the type of threat that we are experiencing today,” he said.
Monteagudo said the Philippines now has the weakest anti-terrorism law in the region, and it is the reason why the country is attracting foreign terrorist fighters even from as far as Iraq, Syria and Morocco.
He said the proposal might not even be sufficient to determine the domestic and international links of the suspected terrorists.
“The 30 days should even be extendable if necessary, considering that the investigations that we conduct not only concern domestic networks but also international networks. It takes time for us to establish and coordinate with other foreign countries regarding the terrorist networks,” Monteagudo said.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana also urged for a stronger anti-terrorism law, saying martial law would not be necessary if the country’s anti-terror law has more teeth.
President Rodrigo Duterte has placed the entire Mindanao under Martial law from May 23, 2017 until the end of this year after Islamic State-inspired local and foreign terrorists seize Marawi City.
Under martial law, security forces are allowed to make warrantless arrests.
Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Oscar Albayalde also called for a stronger law against terrorism.
“With the global threat of terrorism now confronting our country, today is the most opportune time to highlight the shortcomings of the provisions of the Human Security Act so that we may be able to craft a more effective anti-terrorism law — one that law enforcement and the military would not have the utmost difficulty in implementing,” Albayalde said.
Lacson is seeking to amend the provisions of HSA through his Senate Bill 1956, in order to strengthen a law that he said has become a “useless piece of legislation” through the years.
In pushing for stronger legislation, Lacson noted that since its enactment 11 years ago, no person or organization has been prosecuted under the HSA.
Lacson, a former PNP chief, added that since the 9/11 terror attack against the United States, Australia has already legislated 61 new anti-terror measures.
“As lawmakers, we cannot in good conscience remain silent and do nothing about our primary law against terrorism, becoming nothing more than a useless piece of legislation,” the chair of the Senate Committee Public Order and Dangerous Drugs said at the start of the hearing.
Lacson said while an anti-terror law in itself cannot solve the problem of terrorism, government and law enforcers should be given the much-needed tool to prevent, respond to, and address the growing threat of terrorism.
“We cannot allow this to continue. We must act now. Our inaction will make us equally accountable for every death, injury and damage terrorists inflict on our country,” he said.