9th Petition vs. Anti-Terrorism Act filed in SC

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A labor group, together with several leaders of the sector, filed on Thursday the 9th petition questioning the constitutionality of the Anti-Terrorism Act before the Supreme Court.

The labor group Federation of Free Workers filed a petition for certiorari and prohibition with a plea to stop the implementation of the law through a temporary restraining order claiming they were “in danger of being branded and charged of incitement to as well as planning, supporting or performing overt acts of terrorism or being a member of a terrorist group.”

FFW was joined by labor leaders from the Nagkaisa Labor Coalition, Church Labor Conference, TF Logistics Workers’ Union, Kilusang Mayo Uno, Workers’ Resistance Against Tyranny and for Human Rights, Kilos Na Manggagawa, Trade Union Leaders of the UNI Global Union-Philippine Liaison Council, and Kilusang Artikulo Trese.

They  questioned the “vague” definition of terrorism under section 4 of the new law that President Rodrigo Duterte signed on July 3.

Section 4 lists “acts” as falling under the definition of terrorism, if these are intended to cause death or serious bodily injury, endanger a person’s life, cause extensive damage or destruction to a government or public facility, public place or private property or cause extensive interference with, damage or destruction to critical infrastructure.

“The intention of the alleged perpetrator and the purpose for the commission of the acts are left to be determined by the law enforcers and apprehending officers. This is exceedingly dangerous. Intent is a state of mind. Pinpointing the purpose of the act, whether it is to spread a message of fear or seriously undermine public safety, is highly subjective,” the group said.

The same provision declares that “advocacy, protest, dissent, stoppage of work, industrial or mass action, and other similar exercises of civil and political rights” but only if these “are not intended to cause death or serious physical harm to a person, to endanger a person’s life, or to create a serious risk to public safety.”

“What are the parameters that will tell one that a protest or mass action is intended to create a ‘serious risk’ to public safety? In some cases, street protests involve burning of effigies and result in heated exchanges between the police and the protesters. Do those circumstances create a scenario posing serious risk to public safety?” the group said.

“‘Serious risk to public safety’ may mean different things if acts are performed in urban, compared to rural, settings. These phrases could mean different things to a conservative compared to a relatively liberal law enforcer,” it added.

Because of the broad definition of terrorism, other related offenses are equally vague, the group said. These are:

  • section 5 (threat to commit terrorism)
  • section 6 (planning, training, preparing and facilitating the commission of terrorism)
  • section 9 (inciting to commit terrorism)
  • section 10 (recruitment to and membership in a terrorist organization)
  • section 11 (foreign terrorist)
  • section 12 (providing material support to terrorists)

The group argued the related offenses cover a wide range of activities — from phone calls to expressing an opinion, to just being a member of an organization and even humanitarian activities like giving of alms and food or helping the sick and the wounded.

The group  also questioned the constitutionality of the Anti-Terrorism Council and its power to designate who are terrorists, calling this an invalid delegation of authority and a bill of attainder, in violation of the due process clause.

A bill of attainder is a law that declares a person or a group guilty of a crime, which is prohibited under the Bill of Rights because it inflicts punishment without trial.

By giving the Anti-Terrorism Council the authority to determine who are terrorists, the group said the ATC is in fact given the power to legislate and impose punishment on “terrorists” who may be subjected to warrantless arrests and detention without charge for up to 24 days. and whose assets may be frozen by the AMLC, even without hearing.

It added that the delegation is invalid because it failed the “sufficient standard test,” one of two tests employed to determine if there is valid delegation of authority, aside from the “completeness” test.

Although the policy to protect life, liberty and property from terrorism may be complete, there are no sufficient standards that provide adequate guidelines or limitations to the delegated authority, citing as an example the adoption of United Nations Security Council’s list of terrorists.

Furthermore, they assailed the controversial section 29 of the law authorizing detention without a judicial warrant, for violating the Bill of Rights provision in the Constitution prohibiting unreasonable seizures and detention without a court-issued warrant of arrest.

“The detention authorization power of the ATC is clearly, without an iota of doubt, a usurpation of judicial power, a clear and blatant disregard of the principle of separation of powers, an invasion by one unto another’s province,” it said, pointing out that detention without charge under the new law could last up to 24 days.

In contrast, the group said that under the Constitution, detention without charge even during suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus is only up to 3 days, while the Revised Penal Code allows such detention for only up to 36 hours. Beyond that, the arresting officer would be liable.

The result of all the questionable provisions, the group claimed, is a “chilling and destructive effect on the workers’ right to freedom of expression, association and petition the government for redress of grievances.”

The group cited instances when some of their leaders and members have previously been tagged as “communists” and killed — 43 in all — under the Duterte administration and how law enforcers have been implementing the law.

While acknowledging the need to combat terrorism, the group urged the government to focus on the most pressing matter at the moment:

“With all women and men of goodwill, petitioners condemn terrorism in all its forms, whether state-sponsored or initiated by outlaws or non-state entities. They believe, however, that the principal war should be waged against poverty and social exclusion. They therefore demand that the Duterte administration prioritize a robust economic stimulus package that would address the lack of aid for workers – formal and informal – and the massive unemployment brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Eight other individuals and groups have previously filed petitions against the anti-terrorism law, namely:

  • the Calleja group
  • Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman
  • FEU Law Dean Mel Sta. Maria and FEU Law professors
  • Makabayan bloc
  • ex-Office of the Government Corporate Counsel chief Rudolf Philip Jurado
  • Center for Trade Union and Human Rights
  • Constitution framers and Ateneo lawyers
  • Sanlakas

The Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered the consolidation of the last 4 petitions with the first 4, and ordered respondents to file their comments.

More groups are expected to file petitions against the Anti-Terrorism Act in the coming days./Stacy Ang

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