10th petition vs. anti-terror law: Supreme Court urged to stop formation of Anti-Terrorism Council

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More than 40 leaders of militant groups, academics and journalists on Sunday filed the 10th petition against the new anti-terror law, demanding the Supreme Court to declare it as unconstitutional and stop the formation of an anti-terrorism council.

The militants are the first to question the constitutionality of Republic Act 11479, or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, after it took effect, according to government, on Saturday.

Among those who filed were led by Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) Secretary General Renato Reyes, Jr., Movement Against Tyranny convenor Mother Mary John Mananzan and Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay.

Also in the group were former University of the Philippines President Francisco Nemenzo, former UP Chancellor Michael Tan, former Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo, journalist Vergel Santos and Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez.

The petition was filed via email at 8:57 a.m. Sunday.

Named as respondents to the petition are President Rodrigo Duterte, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Senate President Vicente Sotto III and House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano.

“This patently infirm penal invention poses a chilling effect on every person, regardless of citizenship, whether sojourning or living within or outside the Philippines, so that they will be cowed into silence. It deters or discourages people from freely exercising their constitutionally-guaranteed freedoms of speech, expression, assembly, and association,” the petitioners said in a statement released through their counsel, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL).

One of their arguments is the ambiguous definition of terrorism under section 4 of the law.

“It is so amorphous that it leaves the public uncertain of what acts are or may be prohibited and gives state security forces broad discretion to fill in the blanks. People’s liberties – even their lives – would be at the mercy of a law enforcer’s own understanding of terrorism,” they said.

They explained that since the law relies heavily on the definition of terrorism, its entirety should be nullified.

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.

Activities such advocacy, protest, dissent and work stoppage are excluded from the definition of terrorism 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.”

This definition, petitioners said, coupled with stiffer penalties as well as provisions allowing warrantless arrests and prolonged detention of up to 24 days without charge, curtail free speech and the right to peaceably assemble, protest and petition the government for redress of grievances.

“The peaceful exercise of constitutional rights cannot be restricted in the face of security concerns raised by the government without hurdling the clear and present danger rule. Otherwise, the exercise of these rights would be held hostage by imagined threats, the kind that the current administration routinely concocts in the face of criticism, dissent or opposition to its questionable policies and odious proclivities,” they said.

The petitioners are asking for a status quo ante order or a temporary restraining order to immediately stop the formation of the Anti-Terrorism Council, the drafting of the implementing rules and regulations of the law, and the creation of the Joint Oversight Committee.

Under the law, the Anti-Terrorism Council, composed of unelected executive officials chosen by the President, is empowered to designate who may be considered as terrorists and on this basis, authorize the surveillance, arrest without warrant, detention and freezing of assets of a suspected terrorist.

This power, the group said, belongs to the judiciary who has the sole authority to issue warrants of arrest.

The group also hit the power given to law enforcers to conduct surveillance operations and to the Anti-Money Laundering Council to freeze bank accounts even on the basis of mere suspicion. These, they said, are violations of the people’s rights to privacy and against unreasonable searches and seizures.

In addition, the petitioners questioned the lack of safeguards against abuses under the law.

“Along with the law’s glaring unconstitutionality, the removal of the human rights safeguards present in the already draconian Human Security Act of 2007 is already a glaring indication of what the law is for: it is nothing more than a bid for the Duterte administration to legalize State terrorism and the abuse of State powers for an all-out crackdown on dissent,” Palabay said in a separate statement issued by Karapatan.

Palabay cited how Philippine government officials themselves vilified critics of the Anti-Terrorism Act as “terrorists” or “terrorist sympathizers.”

“Make no mistake: the Anti-Terrorism Act is the final puzzle piece in Duterte’s de facto martial law. Its passage has serious and far-reaching implications not only on the work of human rights defenders but also the public who stands to be terrorized by this law,” she said.

“In sum, petitioners submit that RA 11479 is a classic example of a purported cure being worse than the disease it seeks to remedy. For in seeking to stamp out the evil of so-called ‘terrorism,’ the statute seeks to enfeeble the democratic structures of the Constitution, such that its libertarian guarantees devolve into mere husks of hortatory rhetoric,” the petitioners also said.

The group noted that a physical copy of the petition will be filed on Thursday when the Supreme Court re-opens after a 5-day disinfection ending on Wednesday.

Nine other petitioners have already formally challenged the new law at the SC, 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
  • labor groups led by Federation of Free Workers. / Stacy Ang

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