PALACE RUSHING CONSOLIDATION OF ANTI-TERROR BILLS FOR CONGRESS

MANILA
, March 10, 2005
(STAR) By Paolo Romero -  Malacañang is now rushing to consolidate several proposed versions of an anti-terrorism measure so that a comprehensive bill can be filed in Congress before it goes on recess next week, Palace officials said yesterday.

The move came after the Australia-based United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) pointed out that the Philippines still lacks adequate security laws, even though it chairs two international bodies on anti-terrorism.

Silvestre Afable Jr., director of Malacañang’s Office of Communications, said the consolidated bill would take into account concerns raised by UNODC, including the requirement that the law should be "in harmony" with various related international conventions and must protect human and civil rights.

"We already had meetings to consolidate many versions (of the anti-terrorism bills)," Afable said. "We’re looking at a short timetable for its passage and we hope to have it filed in Congress next week before it goes on break."

Afable said there is bipartisan support for the proposed anti-terrorism bill. In a meeting held the other day Senate and House leaders, he said, assured Malacañang of support for the speedy passage of the measure, which Mrs. Arroyo has certified as urgent.

In the same meeting, Afable said, it was agreed that the measure would strengthen the government’s law enforcement capability in line with 12 UN conventions, including the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings, the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, and the International Convention Against the Taking of Hostages.

As a signatory to UN conventions related to anti-terrorism, the Philippines is regularly monitored by the world body for compliance.

The Philippines currently heads the UN Security Resolution 1566 Committee, which deals with terrorist groups outside of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and also chairs the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation’s counter-terrorism task force. Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said the bill would balance the need to ensure security and safeguard civil liberties.

He explained that congressional action on the proposed anti-terror measure was delayed due to the need to immediately pass revenue measures to help solve the fiscal crisis.

"This (anti-terrorism bill) is a priority legislation, and we acknowledge the support of the UN on this move," Bunye said. "We would welcome any assistance to strengthen the anti-terrorism law so that it would serve the ends of democratic stability, the protection of civil liberties and the rule of law."

Following a three-day fact finding mission, the UNODC said once an anti-terrorism law is enacted, the country can be assured of the use of UN resources as well as assistance from other international organizations in implementing the law.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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