“It is not merely provocation. What I fear about is the phrase ‘provoke the government’ is too vague so as to include any kind of provocation. It did not say that to provoke a government to do or to abstain from doing an act. Just it stated that to provoke the government.”
By JONAS ALPASAN
MANILA – Supreme Court justices raised questions on the vague provisions of the Anti-Terror Law, and the possible dangers of the law on red-tagged groups and individuals during the oral arguments Tuesday, May 11.
Associate Justice Rodil Zalameda asked why lawmakers did not use a “modifier” on the phrase “provoke the government” when the law defined what will constitute acts of terrorism. Other countries, he added, used terms such as “coercing or forcing the government to carry out an act.”
“It is not merely provocation. What I fear about is the phrase ‘provoke the government’ is too vague so as to include any kind of provocation. It did not say that to provoke a government to do or to abstain from doing an act. Just it stated that to provoke the government,” said Zalameda.
How can one measure “provocation of government,” he asked further, adding that there should have been a modifier like “serious” provocation.
Assistant Solicitor General Raymund Rigodon disagreed that it is vague, leaving to Congress the “wisdom” of Congress in defining what provocation is.
Earlier oral arguments pointed out that law enforcers are being left to determine if one’s intent constitutes that of a terror act.
Supreme Court Associate Justice Amy Lazaro-Javier, meanwhile, asked if the government’s “lip service” is enough to allay public fears and apprehensions that the controversial terror law will be used to quell dissent.
Javier said, “Does the government hold seminars, lectures, or whatever initiatives that the misimplementation or misunderstanding of the ATL will never occur? At the expense of human lives?”
Rigodon admitted that while he has no personal knowledge over what the government is doing, he said, “I’m sure that the ATC will consider the conduct of training; will hold seminars for law enforcers and military personnel.”
Justice Javier also raised the difference between red-tagging and truth-tagging, which Assistant Solicitor General Marissa Galandines cited during the previous oral arguments as the former being coined by leftists. Galandines claimed that “truth-tagging” involves a comprehensive and detailed evaluation of facts and also invoked that it is objective, fair, and evidence-based.
However, Javier noted that red-tagging is not a new concept because “the government has been doing it even before we knew what it was called.” Even young children, she added, know what it meant.
Citing frequently red-tagged partylist groups Gabriela Women’s Party and Kabataan, Javier said that they have never been mentioned in official resolutions and proclamations that designated the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army as terrorists.
“Does this mean that after all these months of tagging Kabataan and Gabriela as fronts of the CPP and NPA, there is insufficient evidence linking them to said terrorist organizations after all?” she asked.
Galandines said that these are factual matters that may be answered by the Presidential national security adviser, also vice chairperson of the Anti-Terrorism Council, Hermogenes Esperon Jr.
Human rights groups both here and abroad have pointed out how red-tagging results in graver abuses such as extrajudicial killings and arrest and detention over trumped-up charges.
The Philippine terror law was passed by the present administration despite strong public outcry. This law, too, is the most challenged law before the Supreme Court, with 37 consolidated petitions.
Critics argued that the law suffers from “overbreadth and impermissible vagueness.” This, they feared, will bring more danger than the supposed social evils it is supposed to fight.