President Rodrigo Duterte has certified as urgent a bill that will give the country’s anti-terrorism law more teeth.

Duterte, in a letter to House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano on Monday, certified House Bill 6875, as urgent to allow the lower house to expedite the legislative process.

He called for the immediate passage of the bill “to address the urgent need to strengthen the law on anti-terrorism in order to adequately and effectively contain the menace of terrorist acts for the preservation of national security and the promotion of general welfare.”

In a virtual presser on Monday, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana urged Congress to pass the bill before it goes on a recess this week.

“It is certified urgent bill para matapos ito bago mag-recess iyong Congress ngayong June 5 (so that it could be finished before the Congress goes on a recess this June 5),” Lorenzana said

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Lorenzana also defended the bill from critics claiming it was an attack on freedom of speech or an avenue for red-tagging.

“Wala namang basehan iyong kanilang mga opposition dahil binasa ko iyong panukalang batas — nandito sa akin ngayon — iyon namang karapatan ng mga tao ay may sapat na provisions (Those who oppose the bill have no basis, the rights of the people are ensured under its provisions),” he said.

He also assured that law enforcement officials who abuse their powers would be penalized.

“Iyong mga law enforcement agencies ay may sapat ding kaparusahan sa mga nag-aabuso. So dapat walang ipangamba ang ating mga kababayan (Law enforcement agencies will also be punished if they commit abuses. So our citizens should not be worried),” he said.

In February, the Senate passed Senate Bill 1038 or proposed Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 on third and final reading.

Two committees at the House of Representatives approved their version of the measure, which is similar to the Senate version on Friday (May 29).

Under the bill, persons who voluntarily and knowingly join any organization, association, or group of persons knowing that such is a terrorist organization, shall suffer imprisonment of 12 years.

Suspected persons can be detained for 14 days without a warrant of arrest with an allowable 10-day extension.

A 60-day surveillance on suspected terrorists can also be conducted by the police or the military, with an allowable 30-day extension.

The use of videoconferencing for the accused and witnesses will also be allowed under the measure.

To allay concerns of abuse, the Commission on Human Rights will be notified in case of detention of a suspected terrorist. (PNA)

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