By JONAS ALPASAN
MANILA – Petitioners against the Philippine terror law argued before the Supreme Court that the controversial law suffers from overbreadth and impermissible vagueness. During the oral arguments, they called on SC to declare the law unconstitutional even before it causes more harm than the evil it is supposed to fight.
“Your Honors, in the real world out there, who are the targets of this deprivation of rights? The law targets an ascertainable group of activists and perceived dissenters who have been the victims of red-tagging and terrorist tagging by the mere claim that they are “suspected persons,” lawyer and petitioner Neri Colmenares said in his opening statement.
There are now 38 petitions lodged against the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, the most contested law before the Supreme Court in the country’s history, following this morning’s filing of a petition for intervention by two Aetas who were arrested, tortured, and charged with several criminal charges, including the violation of the terror law.
Petitioners raised before the Supreme Court’s attention the seemingly absolute power provided to the Anti-Terrorism Council, which can designate individuals and organizations as terrorists. This, in the context of the rampant red-tagging, including that of the now-deleted Facebook post of the military claiming certain graduates of the University of the Philippines for being captured or killed in armed encounters with the New People’s Army, lawyer Evalyn Ursua said has put lives at risk.
“The red-tagging of activists and others critical of the government has led to deadly results,” she said.
Ursua highlighted the cases of slain human rights lawyer Benjamin Ramos and activist Zara Alvarez who were publicly tagged as communists or terrorists before they were killed. With the Philippine terror law in place, she added, red-tagging will now be legal through the absolute power of designation.
Undermining of rights
Lawyer and petitioner Edcel Lagman said during the oral arguments that the prolonged detention that the terror law has allowed is an unmitigated assault on human rights. This, he said, will deprive the people of their right to due process, with mere suspicion now replacing the judicial process of determining probable cause.
Based on a collatilla stipulated in the terror law, Chel Diokno said law enforcers will now be left to determine if one’s intent constitutes that of a terror act, which it vaguely defines.
Prior to the terror law’s signing, mere claims, too, have been used to freeze the bank account of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines. Ursua said there were claims that their funds are being used to finance the underground movement. With the terror law in place, the lawyer said terror designation will institutionalize this.
There is also no process of delisting, per the law.
In her interpellation, Associate Justice Carandang asked if terrorism, which she described as a new phenomenon, may compel lawmakers to pass a law allowing longer detention than the existing criminal procedures. Lagman, however, said the Congress cannot pass a law against terrorism by derogating civil liberties and constitutional rights.
Meanwhile, Associate Justice Marvic Leonen said that while he understands the fears brought by the terror law’s passing, a law, to be considered void, must be clear and convincing that there is no other interpretation but an infringement on certain rights.