Philippines plans law to give Duterte Marcos-like powers
New legislation that would grant the Philippine president powers similar to martial law comes amid claims by critics that he made up the alleged ‘Red October’ coup plot to justify a crackdown on the opposition
The Congress of the Philippines is rushing approval of a new law that could give President Rodrigo Duterte wide-ranging powers similar to those of his idol, the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
The death penalty will be restored. Torture, allowed. Filipinos could be jailed for their posts on Facebook, Twitter and other social media. Suspected terrorists and even “unwilling witnesses” could be arrested without warrants and detained for 30 days without charge during an “actual or imminent terrorist attack”.
These are just some of the amendments proposed by Philippine security officials to the current Human Security Act of 2007 or Republic Act 9372.
The proposals come amid claims by the Duterte administration that the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, the New People’s Army, together with opposition political parties and civil society groups, has been plotting a coup called “Red October” to overthrow the president.
However, the claims have been rubbished by critics, who say the plot has been made up to justify a crackdown on the opposition and pave the way for martial law.
In a Senate hearing on Monday, defence secretary Delfin Lorenzana pushed for approval of the new law, saying: “We won’t need to use martial law if we have something else that would give our security agencies a bit more teeth.”
Armed Forces chief of staff General Carlito Galvez, Jnr. said there was a need for longer detention periods, pointing to the recent twin bombings in Isulan, Sultan Kudarat in Mindanao which took place within five days of each other, in August and September.
“We captured the bomber. But because of a very permissive law [requiring their release in 72 hours], the bombers were able to be released from detention,” General Galvez said. Both incidents have been blamed on Islamist terrorists.
At present, Galvez said, “we cannot detain” under mere suspicion alone. It usually took up to two weeks to extract information from a “hard core terrorist”, he said.
Both Galvez and presidential national security adviser Hermogenes Esperon expressed envy for the “more restrictive” laws of other Asian countries. Australia can detain suspects “for as long as seven days or more [whereas] we can only detain suspects for three days”, former military chief Esperon said.
Human rights lawyer Antonio Gabriel La Viña, however, warned the proposals would legalise “state terrorism”. He called the amendments “repugnant to the sacred constitutional doctrine of due process of law which protects life, liberty and property of any person and the right of an accused to be heard and present evidence in his or her behalf”.
Law professor La Viña also sided with left-wing congressman Ariel Casilao, saying that the law was “another step toward a dictatorship”.
Former congressman Teddy Casiño of the Bayan Muna party list group called the proposals “very dangerous” because they “expand the definition of terrorism to virtually any crime under the sun”.
The present law specifies only a dozen high crimes including piracy and mutiny, rebellion or insurrection, coup d’etat, murder, kidnapping and serious illegal detention, arson, and use of nuclear or toxic substances.
However, these crimes can be considered terrorist acts only when they sow and create “a condition of widespread and extraordinary fear and panic among the populace, in order to coerce the government to give in to an unlawful demand”. Security officials have proposed to delete this condition from the law.
In addition, they have inserted the violation of Republic Act 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 as a terrorist act. Since RA 10175 had specified that it covers the entire Philippine Penal Code, the insertion would affect a wide array of laws.
Because of this, Casiño warned that “the amendments make terrorism so broad and vague a crime it can be used against anyone – leftist organisations, tree-huggers, anti-corruption watchdogs, political enemies of those in power, even drug suspects and petty criminals”.
Other notable deletions are the sections banning torture during interrogation. Section 23 of the current RA 9372 required law enforcement workers to keep a logbook on each detainee. Section 24 specified that “no torture or coercion in investigation and interrogation” is allowed. Any evidence extracted in this manner is inadmissible.
Both sections 23 and 24 have been deleted in a draft proposed by security officials.
However, Senator Panfilo Lacson, who chairs the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs, said he had tweaked the Senate version of the bill by restoring section 24 against torture, but not section 23.
Lacson has also proposed to insert a section that specifies that “legitimate exercises of the freedom of expression and to peaceably assemble … protest, dissent” would not be considered terrorist acts provided “a person does not have the intention to use or urge the use of force or violence or cause harm to others”.
Coincidentally, two of the main sponsors of the bill – Senator Lacson and House Congressman Amado Espino, Jnr. – were once both officers in the Philippine Constabulary under Marcos. The constabulary was found to have engaged in massive human rights violations of detainees, according to one of its former officials, General Ramon Montaño.
Human rights groups have estimated that 3,700 people were murdered, 40,000 tortured and up to 100,000 detained without charge during the Marcos dictatorship.