'Kung tahimik ka, huwag mabahala,' says Esperon after anti-terror law signing

National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr, among the officials who will implement the anti-terrorism law, tried to reassure "law-abiding" Filipinos that they have nothing to fear from the new measure signed by President Rodrigo Duterte.

A day after the President approved the law, Esperon said in a virtual press briefing on Saturday, July 4, that the law doesn't cover people who protest "peacefully."

"Kung tahimik naman sila, huwag sila mababahala. Kung ang pakay mo bilang aktibista ay magsaad ng iyong mga hinaing, social injustices, or request for better treatment or ideas, papayagan natin 'yan," he said.

(If they are quiet or peaceful, they shouldn't be worried. If your goal as an activist is to express your grievances, social injustices, or request for better treatment or ideas, we will allow that.)

Those who should worry, he said, are those who "support terrorists" or "armed struggle."

"Ang mga natatakot dito ay 'yung sinasabing tahimik sila pero nagususporta naman sa terorista, nagsusuporta naman sa armed struggle. 'Yun ang mga kinakabahan ngayon dito dahil hindi natin papayagan 'yun," said Esperon.

(The ones who are scared of this are those who say they are silent but they support terrorists, armed struggle. They are worried because we won't allow that.)

To give credence to his claim, Esperon cited a part of the law's Section 4 that states its definition of terrorism "shall not include advocacy, protest, dissent, stoppage of work, industrial or mass action, and other similar exercises of civil and political rights."

It's a caveat that defenders of the law often mention in response to fears of abuse. But Esperon, like other supporters of the measure, failed to elaborate on a critical caveat to the caveat.

The same provision says that the only forms of advocacy or protest that won't be punished as terrorism are those that are "not intended to cause death or serious physical harm to a person, to endanger a person’s life, or to create a serious risk to public safety."

This so-called "killer" clause means that if the government says the protest action was "intended to" cause physical harm or endanger public safety, it would then be considered terrorism. (READ: EXPLAINER: Comparing dangers in old law and anti-terror bill)

What's next for the anti-terrorism law? Esperon is vice-chairman of the Anti-Terrorism Council, a powerful body given powers by the new law to order the arrest of suspected terrorists and ask for a preliminary proscription from the court to label a group or person as terrorists.

He said the council's members are ready to meet to get the ball rolling.

"We are ready to meet as an Anti-Terrorism Council, with the chairman, the Executive Secretary (Salvador Medialdea). We talked the other day and we said that if we are to meet, we will first and foremost review the signed law so that we're all on the same page," he said in Filipino.

The ATC will also craft the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the law, a document that will provide more concrete details of how it will be implemented.

The IRR would also be required by Congress which will form a joint oversight committee to make sure the law is implemented properly.

Asked if a person can be tagged as a terrorist based on what they post on social media, Esperon said, "Maaari (Possible)." 

In the law, "inciting to terrorism" is now a crime. Legal minds, foremost among them former Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio, said this new crime hurts freedom of speech. ([ANALYSIS] The Anti-Terror Act is worse than Martial Law)

The law defines inciting to terrorism as inciting others to commit terrorism "by means of speeches proclamations writings, emblems, banners, or other representations tending to the same end."

The penalty is 12 years imprisonment. – Rappler.com 

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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