Several students and youth groups from Cebu City filed the 20th petition against the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 (ATA), officially designated as Republic Act No. 11479, at the Supreme Court on Tuesday.
Students and youth leaders from the Center for Youth Participation and Development Initiatives, political parties from the Cebu Normal University, University of the Philippines-Cebu and the University of San Carlos, as well as a law student group from the University of Cebu sought to invalidate the new anti-terror law and stop its implementation.
“The ATA is akin to a sword of Damocles constantly hanging over the heads of this country’s freedom-loving citizens and for the generations to come, unless the same is expunged from the annals of the statute books. The law, in itself, carries an evil that threatens to destroy the democratic fabric that binds our institutions and society together,” the group said in their 70-page petition.
“Protection of national security and public welfare must not be, and should never be, at the expense of our basic civil and political liberties,” they said.
The petitioners are represented by the Free Legal Assistance Group-Cebu.
Named as respondents to the petition are Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea as chair of the Anti-Terrorism Council, and all government officials who are part of the body.
The group asked the high court to nullify the entire law or, in the alternative, declare certain provisions unconstitutional, expressing concern that recent arrests in Cebu and Iligan City of student protesters place students, youth activists and members of cause-oriented groups at greater risk should the law be implemented.
“If at all, the abovementioned arrests of student protesters already offer a terrifying glimpse to the petitioners where their right to express their dissent and to speak out against government excesses are effectively curtailed due to the fear of being labelled as “terrorists”, or worse due to fear of arrest and prosecution,” the petition said.
In particular, they said section 4 defining terrorism and related offenses from sections 5 to 12 are void for being vague and overbroad, violating the right to due process of possible violators by expanding the definition of terrorism to “broadly phrased” acts which would include “acts that are not considered criminal under the law.”
In addition, petitioners said these provisions, especially on inciting to terrorism which covers “speeches, proclamations, writings, emblems, banners” and the like, violate freedom of expression as it constitutes prior restraint on free speech.
They also alleged section 16, which authorizes surveillance of suspects and interception of recording of communications, violates the right to privacy, while sections 25, which empowers the Anti-Terrorism Council to designate terrorists, and section 26 to 27 on proscription of terrorist groups not only violate due process but also the presumption of innocence and the constitutional prohibition against the passage of a bill of attainder and an ex post facto law.
A bill of attainder is a law that declares a person or group of persons guilty without trial, while an ex post facto law retroactively punishes an act that was legal at the time it was done.
The consequence of sections 25 to 27, according to petitioners, is that suspects may already be subjected to surveillance, warrantless arrest, detention without charge for up to 24 days, and freezing of assets by the Anti-Money Laundering Council.
Other grounds relied on by petitioners are the following:
Section 29, which authorizes warrantless arrest based on mere suspicion, violates the right against unreasonable searches and seizures and the principle of separation of powers because it constitutes undue delegation of legislative authority and usurpation of judicial functions;
24-day detention without charge goes beyond maximum 3-day period for detention without charge, under the Constitution;
Section 46(m) requiring NGOs, private entities and individuals to render assistance to the Anti-Terrorism Council violates constitutional prohibition against involuntary servitude.
The 19 other petitions already filed against the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 were by the following:
- 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
- Labor groups led by Federation of Free Workers
- Jose Ferrer, Jr.
- Bagong Alyansang Makabayan group
- Ex-Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, ex-Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales and UP Law professors
- Senators Leila de Lima, Francis Pangilinan, lawmakers, Constitution framers and veteran journalists
- National Union of Journalists of the Philippines
- Katapat and youth groups from UP, Ateneo, De La Salle and UST
- Muslim lawyers
- Alternative Law Groups
- Bishops and church leaders led by Manila Bishop Broderick Pabillo
President Rodrigo Duterte signed the controversial law on July 3. It took effect on July 18, although its implementing rules and regulations have yet to be released./Stacy Ang