“The law serves as the trigger for a hand that has long been poised to shoot. Verily, the prosecution and escalated persecution of activists, dissenters, and even ordinary citizens who dare harbor opinions contrary to the government line are not questions of ‘if,’ but ‘when.’ It becomes a question now of how large a scale the ensuing human rights crisis will be. That is, unless the law is stopped in its tracks.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Another petition was electronically filed with the Supreme Court, July 19, seeking to nullify Republic Act No. 11479 or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.
At least 44 leaders and members of progressive organizations are questioning the constitutionality of the newly enacted law. They were assisted by the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL).
This is the first petition to filed a day after the law took effect on July 18.
The petitioners argued that the law poses a chilling effect due to the ambiguous definition of “terrorism.” They also question the powers given to the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC), which has the authority to designate the supposed “terrorists.”
In a statement, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan said that with the law already deemed effective, they are asking the high court to stop the convening of the ATC and the exercise of its functions, to stop the drafting of the implementing rules and regulation and the convening of the Joint Oversight Committee under Section 50 of the law. They are asking the SC to “strike down the entire law for being unconstitutional.”
“The ‘Terror law’ is a bad law,” NUPL president Edre Olalia said in a statement.
“The law serves as the trigger for a hand that has long been poised to shoot. Verily, the prosecution and escalated persecution of activists, dissenters, and even ordinary citizens who dare harbor opinions contrary to the government line are not questions of ‘if,’ but ‘when.’ It becomes a question now of how large a scale the ensuing human rights crisis will be. That is, unless the law is stopped in its tracks,” he added.
This is the 10th petition filed against the controversial Anti-Terror Law.
In gist, the NUPL said the law violates the following:
- the due process clause of the Constitution because of the extremely vague definition of “terrorism” (Section 4 Terrorism);
- the free speech clause under the Constitution (Sections 4 and 9 Inciting to Commit Terrorism);
- the constitutional right to due process, right to property, and freedom of association, and for usurping judicial prerogatives (Section 25 Designation of Terrorist Individual, Groups of Persons, Organizations or Associations);
- the due process clause and encroaches upon protected freedoms (Sections 26 Proscription of Terrorist Organizations, Association, or Group of Persons and 27 Preliminary Order of Proscription);
- the constitutional protection against warrantless arrests and detention without charges (Section 29 Detention Without Judicial Warrant of Arrest); and
- the constitutionally protected right to bail and right to travel (Section 34 Restriction on the Right to Travel).
Olalia said there is a chilling effect of the law on every person in the Philippines and abroad. This, he said, is due to the vague definition of terrorism, as “it leaves the public uncertain of what acts are or may be prohibited and gives state security forces broad discretion to fill in the blanks.”
With this, he said “the people’s liberties – even their lives would be at the mercy of a law enforcer’s own understanding of terrorism.”
The NUPL also asserts that the law curtails free speech and the right to peaceably assemble, protest, and petition the government for a redress of grievance. They said that the law adds qualifications to their exercise of their legal rights enshrined in the Constitution so as not to be considered acts of terrorism.
They cited the gravity of the penalties under the law which include warrantless arrest and prolonged detention of up to 24 days even if a person is just a suspect.
The lawyers group said this permits the government to treat “advocacy, protest, dissent, stoppage of work, industrial or mass action, and other similar exercises of civil and political rights as terrorism based on the speaker’s or actor’s purported intent is an extremely dangerous proposition – one that threatens and dangles a Damocles sword on all persons who may be minded to exercise their civil rights, but who – out of an understandable fear of arrest, prosecution or even extreme prejudice– would refrain from doing so.”
They added that there is a “clear and present danger” rule thus the government cannot just restrict people’s constitutional rights due to the supposed security concerns.
“Otherwise, the exercise of these rights would be held hostage by imagined threats, the kind that the current administration routinely concocts in the face of criticism, dissent or opposition to its questionable policies and odious proclivities,” the NUPL said.
The NUPL also asserts that it is only the judge who has the authority to sanction the arrest of a person through a warrant. Thus, the power given to the ATC to designate a person or a group as a terrorist and order their arrest for a mere suspicion is a violation of the law.
“The ATC, in a manner of speaking, will yet again act as prosecutor, judge and executioner. Granting such powers in one executive body of a political branch of government is an evil sought to be prevented by the framers of the 1987 Constitution, which is why they lodged upon judges the sole and exclusive discretion to determine reasonable intrusions into liberty and privacy,” the NUPL said.
The ATC’s power as well as the grant of powers to law enforcement agents to conduct surveillance operations and the Anti-Money Laundering Council’s authority to freeze the bank accounts of those who are merely suspected of terrorism are unprecedented, said the lawyers group, and “unconscionable attacks on the people’s right to privacy and right against unreasonable searches and seizures.”
“The extent and degree of the pernicious effects of the evils of real terrorism may arguably be not dubitable. However, the evils of curtailed rights and shrinking freedoms are real, clear, present, and compelling. And they are coming from those who are supposed to protect us. And that is makes this law as bad as it gets,” the NUPL said.
The respondents include President Duterte, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Senate President Vicente Sotto III, and House Speaker Alan Cayetano.
Meanwhile, petitioners include Renato ReyesJr. and Dr. Carol Araullo of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, Mother Mary John Mananzan of Movement Against Tyranny, former University of the Philippines President Francisco Nemenzo, former UP-Diliman Chancellor Prof. Michael Tan, Cristina Palabay and Elisa Tita Lubi of Karapatan, former National Commission on Culture and the Arts chairperson Prof. Felipe De Leon, former Social Welfare Secretary Prof. Judy Taguiwalo, Edith Burgos of Free Jonas Burgos Movement, Renato Constantino Jr., former National Anti-Poverty Commission Undersecretary Corazon Tan, Former Social Welfare Undersecretary Malou Jarabe, Boni Ilagan of Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses, Bishop Deogracias Iniguez, former Bayan Muna Teddy Casino, Mae Paner, Vergel Santos, Prof. Temario Rivera, Francisco Alcuaz, Rey Salinas, and Carmen Deunida, among others.