Tue, Jul 17, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Lawmakers call for repeal of new anti-terror law

AP , MANILA

Left-wing Philippine lawmakers filed a bill yesterday calling for the repeal of a landmark anti-terror law that came into force over the weekend, calling the new legislation a "recipe for authoritarian rule."

It was the first legal step taken by leftist opponents to stop the Human Security Act, which came into force on Sunday. Left-wing groups also planned to ask the Supreme Court to suspend it.

The legislation endangers civil liberties won by Filipinos in 1986, when they ousted late dictator Ferdinand Marcos in a nonviolent "people power" revolt, a group of House of Representatives members led by Representative Satur Ocampo said in the bill.

"Placed in the hands of incompetent enforcers or a paranoid and vindictive government, it becomes a recipe for authoritarian rule," they said.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's government hopes the law will turn the Southeast Asian country -- regarded as a breeding ground of Islamic radicals -- into a hostile territory for militants.

Arroyo says the law is intended to shield the public and economy from terrorism, citing former attacks on buses, telecommunications and power lines.

vague

Ocampo said the anti-terror law was dangerously broad and extremely vague, and that authorities could rely on it to impose strong penalties in cases of legitimate dissent, common crime and political offenses. One of its basic flaws was its definition of terrorism, he said.

The new law defines terrorism as any of at least 12 violent crimes -- including murder, kidnsapping, arson, piracy and rebellion -- that cause widespread and extraordinary panic and force the government to give in to an unlawful demand.

Without clearly defining extraordinary fear and ways of coercing the government, legitimate expressions of dissent -- including labor strikes, demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience -- could also be deemed terrorist acts, the lawmakers said.

The army-backed "people power" revolts that ousted Marcos in 1986 and former president Joseph Estrada in 2001 also could be considered acts of terrorism under the new law because it "blurs the distinction between ordinary crimes and real acts of terrorism," they said in the bill.

The new law fosters guilt by association, meaning members of an outlawed association are automatically terror suspects without due process -- effectively bringing back an anti-subversion law that Congress repealed in 1992, the lawmakers said.

Defense Undersecretary Ric Blancaflor said legislators had watered down the anti-terror bill with safeguards to prevent abuses.

He cited a provision that bans the torture of suspects, and another that fines law enforcement officers 500,000 pesos (US$10,870) for each day they wrongfully detain a terror suspect.

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