Anti-terror law alarms a wide range of groups

As of last Thursday, at least 16 petitions had already been filed before the Supreme Court, asking it to strike down the new Anti-Terrorism Act (RA 11479) – either in its entirety or several of its provisions assailed for their “vagueness” and “overbreadth/over-reach” – for violating the Constitution.

The law, passage of which was railroaded through Congress amid the COVID-19 pandemic, was signed by President Duterte on July 3. It took effect last July 18, per the department of justice.

Cited foremost as being violated by the ATA is Article III (Bill of Rights), Section 4 of the 1987 Constitution, It provides: “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.”

The new law violates or curtails other rights as well, according to the complainants, including the following: the rights to due process, to association, to privacy of communication and correspondence, to public information, to presumption of innocence, to bail; the right against isolated or incommunicado detention, against unreasonable searches and seizures, and not to be subjected to a law with retroactive effect (legally termed a bill of attainder).

The first nine petitions were filed soon after Duterte signed RA 11479 and before it was deemed to have taken effect (on July 4, 7, 10, and 13); the rest were filed on July 19, 22, and 23.

Of these petitions, three included as respondent President Duterte (although supposedly he can’t be sued while in office). These were the ones filed by the Makabayan Coalition of progressive partylist groups; by 44 other progressive groups and individuals, led by the multisectoral alliance Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) and the human rights watchdog Karapatan; and by the Sanlakas partylist group.

Notable among the personalities who led other public individuals in filing separate petitions are retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio and retired Associate Justice Conchita Carpio Morales, who once served as Ombudsman; and four members of the 1986-87 Constitutional Commission: Christian Monsod and Felicitas Aquino-Arroyo (who filed their petition along with the Ateneo Human Rights Center on July 10), and Florangel Rosario-Braid and Edmundo Garcia, who along with Senators Francis Pangilinan and Leila de Lima and the Free Legal Assistance Group sought SC intervention on July 23.

At this point it’s not clear how the Supreme Court will handle the 16 petitions (the number may still increase). Thus far, the tribunal has directed the consolidation of the two batches of petitions filed before the effectivity of the law, calling on the respondents to submit their comments on the issues raised.

It may interest the readers, meantime, to learn how some of the petitioners see the ATA as negatively, if not dangerously, affecting them. Based on news reports, here are some situations of concern made known:

• Petitioners Carpio, Carpio-Morales, and Jay Batongbacal, UP law associate dean and maritime affairs institute director, said that their published criticisms of the Duterte administration’s inability to defend the country’s maritime rights in the West Philippine Sea may be deemed by the ATA implementors as “inciting to commit terrorism,” thus exposing them to possible prosecution under the new law.

They pointed out, for instance, that without intending so Carpio’s “impassioned activism may convey in the mind of the hearer the message that to preserve the (WPS) for the country, the people must withdraw support from the Duterte administration by means drastic, violent or terroristic, if need be.”

Further, the petition mentions the fact that the President’s son, Davao City Rep. and deputy speaker Paolo Duterte, has accused Carpio of being part of a supposed plot to oust his father, and that national security adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., Anti-Terrorism Council vice chair, has called Carpio a “warmonger.”

• On the part of the journalists, writers, artists, and other cultural workers (led in their petition by national artist for literature Bienvenido Lumbera), they stated the context of their stand against the ATA.

Even before the enactment of the ATA, they said, state officials and security forces have long committed acts that violate their exercise of the freedom of expression. The new law “gives authorities legitimacy in further committing similar violations,” they pointed out, referring to the sustained red-tagging, threats and harassments from state authorities in their lines of work.

They singled out the National Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), created under Executive Order 70, that “regularly tag journalists and artists not only as supporters of ‘communist terrorists’ but as active members of the Communist Party of the Philippines or the New People’s Army.” They also cited several statements of the NTF-ELCAC accusing journalists – even the ABS-CBN owners, executives, and employees – as part of the alleged propaganda machinery of the CPP, and tagging the organization Concerned Artists of the Philippines as the “open sectoral organization of the Leftist underground movement of artists.”

• The cause-oriented and human rights defenders group led by Bayan and Karapatan has voiced out similar complaints, including vilification by the NTF-ELCAC throughout the country and abroad.

• The 16 groups representing the Filipino youth (including student councils and various organizations at UP-Diliman, Ateneo de Manila University, De La Salle University, and University of Sto. Tomas) specifically called attention to the detrimental impact on their right to dissent of the vagueness of the ATA’s Section 4 (defining terrorism) and Section 9 (inciting to commit terrorism).

While any form of speech may possibly be punished in connection with the crime of terrorism as defined, the youth petitioners said, “nowhere in the (law) does it provide any example or metric by which any person may reasonably calibrate the tendency of speech or speech-related conduct to create a serious risk.”

• The 16th petition, filed by four Bangsamoro lawyers, complained that the Muslims and natives of Mindanao have been “at the heart of the struggle against terrorism” as “we are most affected by it,” yet they they have been practically ignored in the crafting of the ATA.

Citing historical and current prejudice against the Muslims – that “SC jurisprudence dating back to the colonial era referred to the Moro people as having ‘barbarous and savage customs’ and an ‘absolute lack of education and culture’” – they point out that Muslims are at bigger risk of being accused of terrorism-related crimes under the ATA or suffering detention without charges for up to 24 days.

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Published in Philippine Star
July 25, 2020

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