Palace, DILG chief back expanded wiretap law

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Palace, DILG chief back expanded wiretap law

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang supports the defense department’s call for amendments to the Human Security Act of 2007 or Republic Act 9372, aimed at expanding the government’s wiretapping powers in fighting terrorism and other threats to national security.

Chief presidential legal counsel and spokesman Salvador Panelo said, he sees nothing wrong if the security officials will be allowed to extend their wiretapping activities to three months at the maximum.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana earlier this week said that the legally-sanctioned wiretapping of suspects should be extended to 90 days instead of the current initial period of 30 days, and with one extension of up to 30 days.

“If we are already allowed 60 days, I don’t think an additional 30 days will matter. What matters most is that the defense department will have the tools to secure this country from any threat from outside, as well as within,” Panelo said.

He added that the Palace “will defer to the judgment of the defense department.”

Panelo also assured the public that proper safeguards will remain in the law, to ensure the rights of the greater majority will always be protected.

“We are always protective of the rights of citizens in this country. The Constitution is our guide. We will not violate the Constitution,” he added.

Expressing support for Lorenzana’s proposal, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said investigating terror suspects requires much more time.

“Why? Terrorism is not just like ordinary crime. You have to look for cells, infrastructure, communication,” he said. “With an amended HSA, it will be easier to counter terrorism,” Año added.

He ruled out the possibility of law enforcers committing abuse in the implementation of an expanded wiretapping law, saying they still need clearance from the Court of Appeals for wiretapping operations.

Año has also batted for the creation of a special court to handle terrorism cases. “This is not meant to make life more difficult to the people, this is intended to save lives. Only terrorists will be affected, and ordinary people will gain from this,” he said in Filipino.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, chairman of the Senate committee on national defense and security, said that they are coming up with an amended anti-terrorism bill.

The law allows wiretapping, with the consent of the Court of Appeals, only for terror suspects, and expressly prohibits it in the case of lawyer-client communication, between doctor and patient, and between journalists and their sources.

Lorenzana said authorities would have to decide whether communist rebels should be classified as terrorists under the proposed amended law.