Philippines seeks to strengthen anti-terror law

AP News
Posted: Aug 16, 2011 6:20 AM
Philippines seeks to strengthen anti-terror law

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III said Tuesday his administration has asked legislators to strengthen an anti-terror law by easing safeguards against abuse that have deterred authorities from using it.

Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo signed the Human Security Act in 2007 to strengthen the Philippines' battle against al-Qaida-linked militants. But concern over possible rights violations prompted lawmakers to include strong safeguards against abuses.

Since its passage, the law is known to have been used only twice.

Aquino said one proposed amendment to the law would drastically reduce an $11,700 (500,000-peso) fine for each day the police or the military wrongfully detain a terror suspect.

The government also wants to remove a provision that requires terror suspects to be notified when they are placed under surveillance, he said.

"Who would want to be slapped with a half a million (pesos) daily fine?" Aquino told a news conference after submitting several priority bills to congressional leaders, including the proposed anti-terror law amendments.

"A law enforcement entity would be frightened to arrest anybody despite strong intelligence," Aquino said.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, a former defense chief and a proponent of the anti-terror legislation, said he would back Aquino's proposed changes.

The United States and Australia welcomed the law when it took effect in July 2007. U.S. and Australian security officials have expressed fears that suspected terror training camps in the southern Philippines could produce militants able to carry out attacks anywhere in the world.

But several left-wing groups, legislators and human rights advocates petitioned the Supreme Court to declare the law unconstitutional, saying its definition of terrorism is too broad and could cover legitimate dissent like labor strikes, anti-U.S. demonstrations and even stunts by environmental activists.

The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the law last year.

The law defines terrorism as any of at least 12 violent crimes _ including murder, kidnapping, arson, piracy, coup and rebellion _ that cause widespread and extraordinary panic and force the government to give in to unlawful demands.

It allows detention of suspected terrorists without charge for three days and their rendition to other countries.

Police used the law to charge three bombing suspects with terrorism in November 2008.

Last year, prosecutors asked a court in southern Basilan province to make membership in the small but brutal Abu Sayyaf group a crime and list more than 200 of its fighters as terrorists under the law, citing more than two decades of bombings, kidnappings and beheadings.