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Speak Out: What is terrorism in the Philippines?

BY THE time you’re reading this, the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) of 2020 or Republic Act (RA) 11479 has taken effect. Whilst many are worried about this new law, do they know what constitutes an act of terrorism? In this article, terrorism will be defined based on the ATA and distinguish it from its previous definition in the repealed Human Security Act (HSA) of 2007 or RA 9372.

In ATA’s Section 4, terrorism is said to be committed by any person who, within or outside the Philippines, regardless of the stage of execution engages in acts intended to cause death or serious bodily injury to any person, or endangers a person's life. Terrorism is also engaging in acts intended to cause extensive damage or destruction to a government or public facility, public place or private property. It is also terrorism to do acts intended to cause extensive interference with, damage or destruction to critical infrastructure.

Acts of terrorism include the development, manufacture, possession, acquisition, transportation, supply or use of weapons, explosives or of biological, nuclear, radiological or chemical weapons. It is also terrorism to release dangerous substances, or causing fire, floods or explosions.

The ATA says that these are acts of terrorism when the purpose of such act, by its nature and context, is to intimidate the general public or a segment thereof to spread a message of fear, to provoke or influence by intimidation the government or any international organization, or seriously destabilize or destroy the fundamental political, economic, or social structures of the country, or create a public emergency or seriously undermine public safety.

On the other hand, in the repealed HSA, terrorism is committed by any person who does an act punishable under the Revised Penal Code (RPC), particularly piracy in general and mutiny in the high seas or in the Philippine waters; rebellion or insurrection; coup d' etat, including acts committed by private persons; murder; kidnapping and serious illegal detention; and crimes involving destruction.

So how is the ATA different from HSA’s definition of terrorism? The ATA now qualifies that terrorism can be committed within or outside the Philippines.

Notice also the keyword of the definition in ATA is “intention”, meaning that the new law factors in the intention of a person or an organization in committing an act and will penalize them regardless of the stage of execution.

Although the enumerated crimes in HSA are already punished by the RPC, it will be considered terrorism if the intent should be “for sowing and creating 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.” The new law deleted the HSA’s requirement for coercion of the government to “give in to an unlawful demand,” to be established.

Meanwhile, the definition in the ATA refers to general acts but also requires a specific intent. The Supreme Court (SC) explained what a specific intent is in People vs. Delim (2003). Specific intent is used to describe a state of mind that exists where circumstances indicate that an offender actively desired certain criminal consequences or objectively desired a specific result to follow his act or failure to act. Specific intent involves a state of the mind. It is the particular purpose or specific intention in doing the prohibited act. It may be inferred from the circumstances of the actions of the accused as established by the evidence on record.

The SC clarified that specific intent is not synonymous with motive. Motive generally is referred to as the reason which prompts the accused to engage in a particular criminal activity. A motive is not an essential element of a crime and hence the prosecution need not prove the same.

Another difference of ATA from HSA is what the proponents of the ATA point out as the new law’s so-called ‘safeguard provision’. The ATA says that terrorism shall not include advocacy, protest, dissent, stoppage of work, industrial or mass action, and other similar exercises of civil and political rights, which 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.

However, critics, including legal luminaries like retired SC Justices Antonio Carpio and Conchita Carpio-Morales, still say that this is vaguely worded because it depends on the government on how it will interpret whether a dissent or opposition creates a serious risk to public safety.

As of this writing, 21 petitions against the ATA have been filed before the SC. Whether or not you are in favour of this law, knowing how it defines terrorism is important because as the Civil Code says, ignorance of the law excuses no one from compliance therewith.


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