MANILA: Philippine authorities on Wednesday said that a suspected Indonesian suicide bomber who was arrested in a joint military and police operation in Sulu four days ago would serve as a test case for the country’s newly signed anti-terror law (ATL).
“This is the first major case, I think, where certain persons suspected of being foreign terrorists are being charged with violating our new anti-terrorism law,” Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra told Arab News.
He added that the Anti-Terrorism Council had approved implementing rules and regulations (IRR) for the controversial Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 (ATA), which President Rodrigo Duterte signed in July.
“The provincial prosecutor of Sulu has been advised that the IRR of the ATL has been approved by the Anti-Terrorism Council today,” he said.
The Indonesian woman, Nana Isirani, also known as “Rezky Fantasya Rullie” or “Cici,” was arrested in a house in Jolo, Sulu where government forces found a suicide vest and bomb components.
Earlier, the military said that Rullie, who is pregnant, had volunteered to carry out the suicide attack after giving birth, “to take revenge” for the death of her husband, Andi Baso, an Indonesian militant who was reportedly killed in a clash with government forces on Aug. 29 in the Patikul town of Sulu.
Rullie was arrested with two other women who are believed to be the wives of Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) members.
Meanwhile, Guevarra also supported a statement by Senator Panfilo Lacson on Tuesday that Rullie’s arrest would be a good test case for the ATL, particularly its provision penalizing “inchoate offenses.”
Lacson, former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief-turned-lawmaker, said that the bombs and other items seized from Rullie indicated that she was preparing for a terrorist attack.
“This is one example of an inchoate offense made punishable under the new anti-terrorism law. By including inchoate offenses . . . we are criminalizing the foregoing acts of the arrested suspects which include the planning, preparation and facilitation of terrorism . . .” Lacson, who sponsored the anti-terrorism act in the Senate, said in his speech before the Philippine Army’s multi-sector advisory board summit.
He added that one of the new features of the ATL was the penalizing of “inchoate offenses,” or preparatory acts that are deemed criminal even without actual harm being done, provided that the harmful act that would have occurred was one that the law tried to prevent, such as terrorism.
This would “prevent terrorism” even before the actual commission of the violent terrorist act.
Penalizing inchoate offenses, Lacson said, was covered by the mandate under United Nations Security Council Resolution No. 1373, which states that “planning and preparation, among others, are established as serious criminal offenses in domestic laws and that the punishment should duly reflect the seriousness of such terrorist acts.”
The senator said that police investigators told him on Monday that Sulu provincial prosecutor Anna Marie Pierreangeli Ledesma had advised against the filing of cases under the ATL pending the release of the IRR.
Instead, Ledesma recommended the filing of a case in violation of Republic Act 9516, or illegal possession of explosives, against Rullie.
When Lacson learned of Ledesma’s recommendation, he became concerned.
He contacted the Justice Secretary who assured him he would issue the proper guidance to the provincial prosecutor in filing charges against Rullie.
“(Secretary Guevarra told me) he stands by his earlier pronouncement that the Anti-Terrorism Law is already in effect upon its publication on July 18, 2020, and its application is not dependent upon the issuance of the IRR,” Lacson said.
In August, the Justice Department began drafting the IRR of the ATL, which Duterte signed on July 3.
The new law repeals Republic Act 9372 or the Human Security Act of 2007.
The new law criminalizes acts that incite terrorism “by means of speeches, proclamations, writings, emblems, banners or other representations.”
It also grants the president power to create an anti-terrorism council that could name individuals and groups as terrorists, allows authorities to detain suspected terrorists without charge for up to 24 days, and permits the government to conduct 90 days of surveillance and wiretaps.
The law also imposes a 12-year jail term on a person who voluntarily or knowingly joins a terrorist organization.
More than 30 petitions have been filed before the Supreme Court by opposition groups and individuals questioning the validity of the law.
Earlier, Duterte had stressed that the public has “nothing to fear” from the law, which would be used to “protect the country from terrorism.”
“For the law-abiding citizen of this country . . . Do not be afraid if you are not a terrorist, if you don’t destroy the government, blow up churches or public utilities . . . just to see the nation fall,” Duterte said in a taped address in July.
Duterte said that the new anti-terror law was a much-needed legal weapon that the government could use to fight terrorism, citing attacks in Mindanao which “have killed many people” and threatened peace and order in the southern part of the archipelago.