Gov't critics, peaceful protesters not considered as terrorists – Lorenzana

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 3)— Government critics and activists do not need to raise alarm over the controversial anti-terrorism bill, the country's defense chief said Wednesday, as he stressed that citizens are protected by their various constitutional rights.

Speaking to CNN Philippines, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said protests— especially those staged "peacefully"— will not be considered as acts of terrorism and will not be covered by the proposed measure.

"No. They’re not terrorists. Anybody who makes a peaceful protest... They’re not terrorists. It is inside our Constitution that you can do a peaceful protest or assembly," Lorenzana said in an interview with The Source.

"Depende (if protest action turns violent) kung 'yung violence na 'yan (it depends if the violence) is spontaneous... I don’t think these are terrorism. It’s only when it’s done very deliberately to manufacture weapons or bombs and to threaten people. It’s different from demonstrators actually," he added.

The House of Representatives on Tuesday approved on second reading House Bill 6875, a day after President Rodrigo Duterte certified it as urgent.

The chief executive, in a letter addressed to House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, earlier called for the immediate approval of the Anti-Terrorism Bill "to address the urgent need to strengthen the law on anti-terrorism" and "effectively contain the menace of terrorist acts."

The bill, which adopted the Senate version of the measure passed in February, expands the definition of terrorism, and proposes stiffer penalties for "terrorists" or those found to be helping them.

Netizens have voiced out concerns over the hasty passage of the bill, with some questioning its "broad" and "vague" provisions that may lead to human rights violations.

The hashtags #JunkTerrorBill and #ActivismIsNotTerrorism have trended over the past few days, as some said the proposed law may be used to target those who express dissent against the government. Some netizens have also questioned the timing of Congress' discussions, with the country still battling the COVID-19 crisis.

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Lorenzana, however, denied claims the measure will give law enforcers "blanket authority" to tag anyone as a terrorist, reiterating that citizens have enough safeguards under the Constitution.

He also shrugged off claims on the untimely passage of the measure, noting how some terrorists may take advantage of the current health crisis.

"I guess we need it now because the threat that terrorists would also take advantage of the pandemic is very great," Lorenzana said.

"So I think this is just to me, it’s high time that this bill is approved and passed into law."

Under the proposed bill, suspected terrorists can be detained longer without an warrant of arrest – from three days under the current law to up to 14 days, extendable by another 10 days.

It will also impose 12 years of prison time to any person who threatens to commit any act of terrorism, proposes any such acts or incites others to commit terrorism

The measure, which seeks to repeal the Human Security Act of 2007, will likewise give more surveillance powers to the military and police, allowing authorities to track down communications of individuals supposedly engaged in terrorist acts.