OCTOBER 11, 2006 (STAR) Malacañang bewailed anew yesterday the lack of an anti-terrorism law, saying security forces are demoralized because they cannot put terror suspects behind bars.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye urged the Senate to pass the long-delayed legislation after opposition senators accused the administration’s allies of railroading the bill.

Bunye said delaying the measure was aggravating the country’s security situation.

"The lack of an appropriate law to deal with terror groups is already causing demoralization on the part of the security forces, considering that notorious terrorists taken into custody can easily walk away," he said.

"The passage of the anti-terrorism bill is key not only to the security of the people but to a sound and safe environment for economic investment and enterprise," Bunye said.

Criticizing opposition senators, National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales said he expected smooth sailing for the administration version of the bill because the opposition’s version was stronger.

"How could they say that we’re rushing it when we have been pushing for it for years already," Gonzales told reporters. "The problem with us is we forget when we have begun something and when it is about to be finished, we say that we’re rushing things."

He said it has been five years since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States but up to now the Philippines doesn’t have law dealing with terrorism.

Earlier, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. and Sen. Jamby Madrigal accused Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, one of the bill’s staunchest proponents, of forcing the issue when he demanded an end to the seemingly endless debates over the measure and proceeded with making amendments to the bill, the next step in the legislative process.

Pimentel and Madrigal, who fear that the bill would be used to stifle dissent against the administration, tried but failed to delay a vote on Enrile’s motion with a three-hour filibuster.

"We are appealing to the good sense of the members of the Senate and we’re saying that they should not toy around with the security and safety of our constituencies," Bunye said. "Just as it is very difficult for our law enforcers to apprehend the suspected terrorists, it is so easy for terrorist suspects go scot-free."

The Senate voted in favor of Enrile.

Pimentel railed in a privilege speech that the proposed bill was "arguably the most menacing of all the bills" the Senate had tackled.

"No other bill emasculates the protective provisions of the constitutional Bill of Rights. No other bill menaces the poor, the oppressed, the unconnected, the voiceless and the powerless more than the bill in question. No other bill has the potential for abuse by the unscrupulous leaders of the country than the bill that we are considering," he said.

Acts defined as crimes committed by terrorists were already in the Revised Penal Code, Pimentel said.

At the House of Representatives, two administration congressmen remained confident that President Arroyo’s allies in the Senate would be able to shepherd the anti-terror bill to final approval despite opposition.

In a joint statement, Representatives Douglas Cagas of Davao del Sur and Exequiel Javier of Antique said recent attacks by communist rebels and a reported conspiracy between terrorist groups Jemaah Islamiyah and Abu Sayyaf have made the passage of the anti-terror bill more urgent.

"These incidents have once again raised the need for us to be extra alert and vigilant against terrorism. We cannot afford to further delay the anti-terror bill’s enactment in light of the lingering threat of terror," they said.

They reminded senators that, "we’ve done our part in passing the measure several months back."

At least two pro-administration senators — Joker Arroyo and Ralph Recto — are reportedly inclined to oppose the measure.

Cagas and Javier said there is no basis for opposition senators to fear about a "legislated martial law" with the enactment of the anti-terror bill.

They said no less than martial law-era defense minister and now senator Enrile, principal author of the anti-terror bill, has included enough safeguards against possible abuses.

They added that they hope that pro-administration senators led by Senate President Manuel Villar Jr. would be able to approve the measure before the end of the year.

Memories of the Marcos dictatorship and disagreement over the definition of "terrorism" and acts that may be considered terrorism have slowed passage of the bill.

In December last year, the House passed its own version of the anti-terror bill.

The bill outlined several acts that would constitute terrorism such as indiscriminate attacks against civilians and property, kidnapping, hijacking, and launching electronic attacks through computers.

It also outlaws illegal manufacturing or selling of chemicals and biological, radiological or nuclear agents that can be used as weapons of mass destruction.

The bill provides for a 72-hour detention period, within which charges against a suspect must be filed — unlike in the United States and Singapore, where anti-terror laws provide for an indefinite detention of suspects to allow thorough questioning by government investigators.

Mrs. Arroyo’s political foes fear that she might take advantage of the measure to crack down on dissent.

She has been under pressure ever since accusations of electoral fraud in the 2004 presidential election surfaced against her last year. — Aurea Calica, Paolo Romero, Jess Diaz

Palace blames Senate on gov't failure to act vs terror groups 10/10 4:43:12 PM

Malacañang said Tuesday that the senators are to blame for the country's lack of an anti-terror bill to protect itself.

Press Secretary Ignacio R. Bunye said in a statement, "We urge our lawmakers to seriously consider the safety and welfare of the public."

"The lack of an appropriate law to deal with terror groups is already causing demoralization on the part of our security forces, considering that notorious terrorists taken into custody could easily walk away," Bunye said. <,br> He appealed to the Senate not to aggravate the situation and give the citizenry a good fighting chance against terror.

"The passage of the anti-terrorism bill is key not only to the security of the people but to a sound and safe environment for economic investment and enterprise," Bunye said.

Madrigal ready to take Enrile's challenge on anti-terror bill 10/10 4:19:31 PM

Opposition Senator Jamby Madrigal said Tuesday she accepts Senator Juan Ponce Enrile's challenge to formulate an anti-terror bill in answer to the latter's current proposal pending at the Senate.

Enrile had earlier issued the challenge after the opposition senators had expressed their 'principled stand' to block his bill.

Madrigal said, ""I accept the challenge posed by Senator Enrile to file a bill on terrorism. It will be a bill that will define not only what terrorism is but also adopt the principle that, the route to national security is respect for human rights."

However, she said, "My challenge to Senator Enrile, on the other hand is this-- suspend his sponsorship of the bill and allow me to file my bill. Rest assured that, when it reaches the senate floor, I will allow Senator Enrile to interpellate me."

Madrigal had earlier accused Enrile's anti-terror bill as 'martial law' in disguise.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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