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Opinions and Commentaries

posted on 18 July 2007

National Insecurity Act

By Greg B. Macabenta

The Human Security Act is now in effect, despite lacking implementing rules and regulations, insists its principal author, former Martial Law enforcer, Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile.

Not surprisingly, it has created a lot of insecurity across the country, which is why some folks are referring to it as the National Insecurity Act.

The loud noises being raised in protest against the law, which is supposed to have become operative on July 15, warn that this will open the floodgates of human rights abuses.

Arbitrary arrests and detention. Intrusion into one’s privacy. Seizing of bank accounts and other assets. Extra-judicial killings. The suppression of press freedom. These are among the horrible consequences being feared, as a result of this law.

This, of course, leaves me a little confused. I’ve always been under the impression that all of the above have already been happening in the Philippines.

So, what else is new?

Actually, if one were to have confidence that the law will be faithfully observed by the authorities and all the penalties and sanctions will be enforced, there should be far less reason to worry than under present circumstances.

Ask the party-list congressmen and Jonas Burgos – wherever he is.

In Section 2, Declaration of Policy, it is stressed that “the State shall uphold basic rights and fundamental liberties of the people as enshrined in the constitution” and, further down, it reiterates that the “powers of the executive department of the government shall not prejudice respect for human rights which shall be absolute and protected at all times.”

No, not the Jueteng Lord.

The law requires a written order of the Court of Appeals before authorities can “listen to, intercept and record… any communication, message, conversation, discussion or spoken or written words” between suspected terrorist groups or persons.

Statue of Liberty

Police or law enforcement personnel who take custody of a suspect are required to “deliver said charged or suspected person to the proper judicial authority within a period of three (3) days” or risk a long jail term.

In fact, the authors of the law appear to have gone overboard in stressing the threat of severe punishment to be imposed on police and other law enforcement personnel for a number of violations.

Ten to 12 years in jail for failure to notify suspects that they are under surveillance or are being wire-tapped; failure to notify a judge in writing that a terrorist suspect has been taken into custody; violation of the rights of detainees; failure to keep an official logbook of the detainee’s incarceration; failure to deliver a suspect to proper judicial authority within 3 days; making untruthful statements or misrepresenting material facts in an affidavit; loss of financial records; revealing classified information; and refusing to restore or delaying the restoration of assets to a suspect who has been found innocent.

Then, there’s imprisonment of 6-12 years for deleting or destroying recorded communication; 6-8 years for failure to notify in writing the target of surveillance concerning the disposition of tapes and discs; and, the whopper: 12-20 years for the death or serious permanent disability of a detainee and for furnishing false evidence or forging a document.

A cop can have real insecurities just struggling to comply with the requirements and toeing the line.

And then, there’s the P500,000 in damages to be paid to a suspect who has been wrongfully accused, upon dismissal of charges or acquittal, “for every day that he or she has been detained or deprived of liberty or arrested without a warrant as a result of such an accusation.” A person is also entitled to P500,000 a day “for the period in which his properties, assets or funds were seized” based on “the concept of liquidated damages.”

For sure, there are certain provisions of the law that give the distinct impression some solons were either asleep or too dumb to comprehend, when these were being deliberated on.

Take Sec. 21, “Rights of a Person Under Custodial Detention.” A suspect must be informed of his or her rights, the “nature and cause of his arrest,” the right to remain silent and to have competent and independent counsel and, if that is unaffordable, free legal assistance.

The suspect is “allowed to communicate freely with his legal counsel and to confer with them at any time WITHOUT RESTRICTION (caps, ours).” The suspect is also allowed to “communicate freely and privately WITHOUT RESTRICTION with the members of his family or with his nearest relative and to be visited by them.”

But Section 26, “Restriction on Travel” states: “In cases where evidence of guilt is NOT STRONG (caps, ours) and the person charged… is entitled to bail and granted the same, the court upon application by the prosecutor shall limit the right of travel of the accused…He or she may also be placed under house arrest by order of the court…While under house arrest, he or she may not use telephones, cell phones, e-mails, computers, the internet or other means of communications with people outside the residence until otherwise ordered by the court.”

So, what does WITHOUT RESTRICTION really mean?

The CBCP has expressed deep concern that the law “defines terrorism too loosely and gives government authorities too much latitude to restrict civil liberties.”

These are not unfounded fears. But not so much because of the language of the law but because of those who will be interpreting and enforcing it.

Surely, exposing corruption in government and exercising freedom of expression cannot be described as “sowing and creating a condition of widespread and extraordinary fear and panic among the populace in order to coerce the government to give in to an unlawful demand,” which is how an act of terrorism is defined in the law.

But between the letter of the law and its observance, there can be a yawning gap, based on the track record of those who will ostensibly uphold it.

Section 53 provides for the creation of an “Anti-Terrorism Council” to enforce the law and “assume the responsibility for the proper and effective implementation of the anti-terrorism policy of the country.”

Its members will be the Executive Secretary as chairman; the Secretary of Justice, as vice-chair; and, as members, the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Secretary of Finance, Secretary of National Defense, National Security Adviser and Secretary of Interior and Local Government.

That means, among others, Eduardo Ermita, Raul Gonzalez, Norberto Gonzales and Ronnie Puno. All reporting to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

That should be reason enough for insecurity.

is a veteran journalist and the publisher and editor of Filipinas Magazine, the only nationally circulated Filipino American monthly magazine.† Mr. Macabenta can be contacted by e-mail at gregmacabenta @
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