Special Court could Oversee Anti-Terror Law

(This is written by Dean Jorge Bocobo at Philippine Commentary, reposted here with his permission. Also known as “Rizalist”, DJB is one of the respected writers around).

Anti-terrorism laws unavoidably entail some curtailment of the general public’s freedoms. But hardly anyone objects very strenuously even to draconian countermeasures when a credible threat is demonstrated, as in the case of a ban on carrying on-board commercial aircraft, components of liquid improvised explosives in the foiled London airliner bombing conspiracy. But last week, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel and Rep. Nereus Acosta, vice chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee declared their intention to hold up, once more, the passage into Law of the long-debated Anti-Terrorism Bill because they say the authorities may use it against legitimate political and opposition leaders. On ABSCBN/ANC last night, Twink Macaraeg’s televised one-on-one debate between National Security Undersecretary Ricardo Blancaflor and the Secretary General of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) Renato Reyes, also revolved around the issue of how the defense of human and civil rights ought to be conducted while the international community fights a war on international terrorism. Although Neric Acosta seems comfortable endlessly debating “the definition of terrorism” as an irresolvable or inescapable rut, his, is really a cop-out position. Nene Pimentel touches on more substantive civil libertarian issues by invoking the ghost of martial laws past and the Marcosian legacy of officially denied salvagings, unexplained desaparecidos … and other human rights atrocities of the recent past. The concerns of both legislators are serious, but can, and have already been amply addressed during the debates over the anti-terror bill. I might only add the following thoughts:

(1) The concern for human and civil rights during the implementation of a new anti-terror law can be addressed in the same way that Sen. Lorenzo M. Tanada, in crafting the 1965 Anti-Wiretapping Law allowed for the legitimate use of electronic eavesdropping on citizens for intelligence and national security purposes, by placing such special operations under the supervision and jurisdiction of the Courts.

(2) In the present environment of an asymmetric war between the international community and international terror groups like Al Qaeda and their allies, perhaps a special Court, like the FISA Court in the United States, has to be instituted especially to handle cases that specifically invoke anti-terrorism legislation. It would operate in much the same way as FISA…the government national security and intelligence agencies would apply for warrants before special anti terror operations are to be undertaken, or, in emergency situations, they may apply for the warrants and inform the Court of their actions even AFTER the operations.

(3) The principle involved in both the Tanada’s Anti-Wiretapping Law and the present Anti-Terrorism bill is the same because both laws allows for a curtailment of the people’s basic freedoms, but only as needed and reviewed and approved by a competent Court. National Security objectives can be achieved in an effective and timely manner while respecting the human and civil rights of citizens and foreign nationals if the implementation of such laws are conducted with the appropriate judicial review.

The United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (1978)

created the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) and enabled it to oversee requests for surveillance warrants by federal police agencies (primarily the F.B.I.) against suspected foreign intelligence agents inside the U.S. The court is located within Department of Justice. The court is staffed by eleven judges appointed by the Chief Justice of the United States to serve seven year terms.

Legislative oversight into the operations of anti-terror agencies within the Executive Dept. ought to be utilized as well to prevent improper targeting of legitimate political personalities, or any other violations of the anti-Terror Law’s letter and spirit.

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