House corrects votes for new anti-terrorism bill due to ‘technical error’

June 5 ------ Citing a "technical error," the House of Representatives on Thursday corrected the votes cast for the controversial new anti-terrorism bill, a day after it was approved on third and final reading. During the plenary session, Deputy Speaker Aurelio "Dong" Gonzales informed the chamber of the correction made in the results of the nominal voting they conducted for House Bill 6875, which seeks to strengthen the government’s fight against terrorism and virtually repeals the Human Security Act of 2007.

This, he said, is "due to a technical error in the recording of electronic votes," he added. "As corrected, the results are as follows: affirmative, 168 instead of 173. Negative, 36 instead of 31. And abstention remains at 29," Gonzales said. "In view thereof, let the records reflect the said result," he added. The corrections in the votes, however, did not affect the status of the measure in the chamber.

House Bill 6875 was approved only a day after it got the second reading approval. The chamber was able to fast-track its approval after President Rodrigo Duterte certified the measure as urgent. Under the measure, any person who will threaten to commit terrorism will be imprisoned for 12 years. The same jail term will be imposed on those who will propose any terroristic act or incite others to commit terrorism. At the same time, any person who will volunteer or join any organization, association or group of persons knowing that such is a terrorist organization will also be imprisoned for 12 years. The same penalty will be imposed on any person found liable as an accessory in the commission of terrorism.

The measure not only places Filipino nationals who may join terrorist organizations outside the country under Philippine jurisdiction but also ensures that foreign terrorists do not use the country as a transit point for terrorist activities. It also removes the provision on payment of P500,000 damages per day of detention of any person acquitted of terrorism charges.

The number of days a suspected person can be detained without a warrant of arrest, however, is set to 14 days and can be extended by 10 days. Aside from these, the measure also allows the police or the military to conduct a 60-day surveillance on suspected terrorists, and can be lengthened to another non-extendable period of 30 days if a judicial authorization has been secured from the Court of Appeals. Any law enforcement or military personnel found to have violated the rights of the accused persons will face a jail sentence of 10 years.

The House Committees on Public Order and Safety and on National Defense and Security last Friday adopted the Senate's version of the measure, which has been approved on third and final reading last February. Since there are no disagreeing provisions between the Senate and House versions, the measure becomes an enrolled bill for action of the President. Concerns have been raised that the proposed measure might be used to target individuals that expressed dissent against the government.

The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers also surmised that its passage will worsen the climate of impunity “that has made the Philippines fertile ground for extra-judicial killings, illegal arrests, and crackdowns against activists and progressive organizations and even ordinary citizens.” But PBA party-list Representative Jericho Nograles, an author of the measure, assured that the proposed law is not against activists, saying that it only targets terrorists and violent extremists.