Former Education Secretary, group of lawyers,  question legality of Anti-Terrorism Law before SC; a day after it was signed by Duterte

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A group of lawyers, as well as Br. Armin Luistro, then Education secretary during the Aquino administration, on Saturday filed with the Supreme Court a petition challenging the constitutionality of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, a day after it was signed by President Rodrigo Duterte last Friday.

The group, led by Ateneo and La Salle law professor and lecturer Howard Calleja, filed via electronic filing a Petition for Certiorari and Prohibition against Republic Act 11479 which takes effect on July 19, according to a Facebook post.

With the petition came a plea for the issuance of a temporary restraining order and writ of preliminary injunction and/or other injunctive remedies.

Aside from Luistro of the De La Salle Brothers, Inc. and Calleja, other petitioners were Atty. Joseph Peter Calleja, University of the Philippines Law Professor Christopher John Lao, Dr. Reynaldo Echavez, Napoleon Siongco, Raeyan Reposar, civic groups Frontliners: Tunay na Bayani and Bagong Siklab Pilipinas.

Calleja and the  group described the controversial law as “oppressive and inconsistent with our Constitution.” hence, the petition.

“This fight against Terrorism should not and should never be a threat to the fundamental freedoms of all peaceful Filipinos,” the group said.

The petitioners said they will proceed to the Supreme Court on Monday to physically file the petition and make a complete copy of the petition available.

Duterte signed the law on Friday despite objections from various groups, including the United Nations human rights body and the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA).

Duterte signed the measure six days before it would have lapsed into law on July 9.

The Office of the Executive Secretary, Department of Justice (DOJ)  and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo earlier gave separate comments on the measure, which has drawn criticism because it allegedly contained provisions that may be used to stifle dissent.

Critics have also warned against the up-to 24-day warrantless detention period for suspected terrorists, and the alleged authority of the Anti-Terrorism Council to authorize in writing the arrest of terrorism suspects.

The BTA has said the legislation should be sent back to Congress to address the issues of “vagueness and overbreadth” as well as other concerns. BTA interim chief minister Murad Ebrahim feared that the Bangsamoro people, “easily labeled as terrorists, would again be subject to discrimination and abuse.”

On Tuesday, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet asked Duterte not to sign the bill, saying the proposal’s looming enactment heightened their concern about the “blurring of important distinctions between criticism, criminality and terrorism.”

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque Jr. replied that developed countries had “more draconian” laws against terrorism, citing those in the United States and the United Kingdom.

The measure defines terrorism as an act committed by a person within or outside the Philippines who engages in activities intended to cause death or serious bodily injury to any person or endanger’s a person’s life, and to cause extensive damage or destruction to a government or public facility, public place or private property.

Terrorism is likewise committed by a person who engages in acts intended to cause extensive interference with, damage or destruction to critical infrastructure, and develops, manufactures, possesses, acquires, transports, supplies, or uses weapons, explosives or of biological, nuclear, radiological or chemical weapons.

The measure states that any person found guilty by the court of planning, training, preparing and facilitating the commission of terrorism will be penalized with life imprisonment without the benefit of parole. The same penalty will be imposed on a person found guilty of conspiracy to commit terrorism.

Under the measure, any person who will threaten to commit terrorism will be imprisoned for 12 years.

The same jail term will be imposed on those who will propose any terroristic act or incite others to commit terrorism.

At the same time, any person who will volunteer or join any organization, association or group of persons knowing that such is a terrorist organization will also be imprisoned for 12 years.

The same penalty will be imposed on any person found liable as an accessory in the commission of terrorism.

The National Security Council and the Anti-Terrorism Council are set to meet for a review of the newly signed Anti-Terrorism Act, as well as to formulate the law’s implementing rules and regulations.

“Bagong pirma ‘yan. Magkakaroon kami ng kopya niyan most likely ngayon o bukas. Handa na kaming magpulong sa Anti Terrorism Council,” National Security Adviser Secretary Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said at the Laging Handa public briefing on Saturday.

Esperon said he has discussed with Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea regarding the review for both councils to have a uniform understanding of the law.

Both councils will then submit the implementing rules and regulations to the Congress, which will in turn form a joint oversight committee.

“Napakaliwanag naman. Itong batas na ito ay talagang kailangan, it’s a matter of necessity,” Esperon said, as he cited past deeds of terrorists, including the bombings in Davao and acts of terrorism in Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi, and the Marawi siege./Stacy Ang 

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