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Philippines president urges lawmakers to strengthen anti-terrorism law

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III [official website] on Tuesday urged lawmakers to enhance a controversial anti-terror law by removing provisions that deter authorities from using the law. The Human Security Act (HSA) [text, PDF], signed [JURIST report] in 2007 by then-president Gloria Arroyo, authorizes the 72-hour detention of suspects without charge and allows for surveillance, wiretapping and seizure of assets. On the other hand, it says that officers who perform an unauthorized wiretap or violate the rights of a detainee could face up to 12 years in prison. The Aquino administration proposed an amendment [AP report] to reduce the $11,700-per-day fine imposed on police or military forces who wrongfully detain terror suspects, as well as removal of a provision requiring suspects to be alerted when they are placed under surveillance. The law has faced criticism for including a broad definition of terrorism and has purportedly been enforced on only two occasions.

The Supreme Court of the Philippines [official website] unanimously upheld the constitutionality of HSA [JURIST report] in October 2010, ruling the petitioners lacked legal standing to challenge the law because it had not caused them any actual damage. In its decision, the court noted that law enforcement officers' reluctance to enforce the law [JURIST report] means it has had no real effect on the civil liberties of militant groups. Even before the controversial law went into effect [JURIST report], there was substantial opposition to the legislation. In March 2007, UN human rights expert Martin Scheinin recommended that the act be amended or repealed [JURIST report]. Also that year, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines urged the government to revisit the act [JURIST report], saying that "many voices are apprehensive" about the anti-terror legislation. In response to criticism, Filipino presidential spokesperson Ignacio Bunye said that the law had already undergone "exhaustive debates" in the legislature [JURIST report]. The government also announced plans for a "massive public information and advocacy campaign" to accompany implementation and highlight "the existence of terror cells in the region and throughout the world."

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