Supreme Court says 16 petitions filed vs Anti-Terrorism Act so far

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

A total of sixteen petitions have been filed so far at the Supreme Court, questioning the constitutionality of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, court spokesperson Brian Keith Hosaka said Thursday.

Among these are petitions filed by media workers, artists, youth groups and Muslim lawyers.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, joined by 37 media workers, academics and artists including national artist Bienvenido Lumbera, filed the 13th petition just before lunchtime Thursday. They were represented by lawyer Evalyn Ursua.

Sixteen youth groups from the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University, De La Salle University, and University of Santo Tomas, led by Kabataang Tagapagtanggol ng Karapatan (Katapat), followed suit in the afternoon, as well as a group of Muslim lawyers, filing the 14th and 15th petitions, respectively.

Another petition had earlier been filed by a certain Jose Ferrer, Jr., based on Hosaka’s list.

The current number of petitions against the country’s new anti-terror law makes it one of the most challenged measures ever enacted.

Aside from the Anti-Terrorism Council, the NUJP named as respondents the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine National Police and the National Bureau of Investigation to the petition, while the youth groups and Muslim lawyers included both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

REASONS FOR FILING PETITION

The NUJP group claimed that the constant red-baiting of journalists and artists by no less than the National Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF ELCAC) raises legitimate fears of arbitrary attacks against them who are perceived as “enemies of the State.”

They cited numerous instances when media workers and artists were either arrested, charged or openly attacked as “communist fronts.”

“As authorities have engaged in acts that violate the legitimate exercise of the freedoms of speech and expression, even before the enactment of Republic Act No. 11479, petitioners assert that the new law gives authorities legitimacy in further committing similar violations,” they said in their petition.

“The Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 will further enable those violations and deprive petitioners and all Filipinos who engage in legitimate expression and dissent of the protection guaranteed under the Philippine Constitution.”

The youth groups, for their part, expressed concern that their engagement in public discourse and advocacies may make them vulnerable to prosecution under the Anti-Terrorism Act.

Meanwhile, Muslim lawyers Algamar Latiph, Bantuas Lucman, Musa Malayang and Dalomilang Parahiman invoked their desire for peace, having been the victims “at the heart of the struggle against terrorism.”

“We want nothing more but peace in our native land. To attain that, the laws against terrorism should stand the scrutiny of constitutionality so that innocent people are protect[ed]; [so] that terrorism is effectively suppressed; so that terrorists are punished; and, so that justice and rule of law prevailed,” they said.

“But with the passage of the Anti- Terrorism Act, the Sword of Damocles hangs over the head of the ordinary Filipino citizen especially the Muslims. And the verbal assurances of the government cannot guarantee that no abuses in its enforcement shall be committed,” they added.

VAGUE DEFINITION AND RESTRICTIONS ON FREEDOM OF SPEECH
 
Like the other petitions filed earlier, all the 3 new petitions questioned the vagueness of the provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Act, particularly the definition of terrorism and related offenses.

The NUJP said that the law does not define which “acts” constitute terrorism but focuses on the “intent” and “purpose” of the acts, regardless of whether the acts were actually committed.

And since all other offenses under the law such as threat, conspiracy, planning, proposal, recruitment and inciting to commit terrorism are all based on a vague definition, the entire law should be struck down, it argued.

For the youth groups, certain qualifiers in the law such as “serious risk to public safety” are too subjective, speculative and vague that could lead to punishing just about any form of speech.

Both the NUJP and youth groups pointed out that the Anti-Terrorism Act regulates speech based on content, particularly the section on inciting to commit terrorism, which covers “speeches, proclamations, writings, emblems, banners or other representations.”

But because its coverage is so sweeping, it could not possibly pass the strict scrutiny test which requires that content-based regulation must have a compelling reason — a clear and present danger that the State seeks to avoid — and restrictions must neither be overbroad nor vague.

OTHER GROUNDS

The petitioners also hit the provision granting the Anti-Terrorism Council power to designate terrorists or terrorist groups and authorize warrantless arrest based on mere suspicion, as violative of the right to due process and the doctrine of separation of powers, since a purely executive council effectively usurps the function of courts.

The youth groups said the new law never intended for warrantless arrests to be taken lightly, nor for a person to be arrested where a crime has not yet happened, detained for up to 24 hours and assets frozen by the Anti-Money Laundering Council — all without the opportunity to be heard nor to contest the ruling.

EQUAL PROTECTION, OTHER VIOLATIONS

The Muslim lawyers, for their part, raised numerous violations of the Bill of Rights, including the equal protection clause, the right to post bail and the right to a speedy disposition of cases.

They argued that because there is no clear standard for suspicion, arrests will most likely be based on personal preference, and Muslim could fall victim to wrongful arrests, citing different instances in the past where Muslims were arrested either based on prejudice or mistaken identity.

It does not help, they said, that the new law does not allow posting of bail within the 24-day detention period without charges. That period in itself delays the disposition of the cases, they stressed.

All the three new petitions asked for either a temporary restraining order or a status quo ante order to prevent the implementation of the Anti-Terrorism Act.

Only the NUJP sought to nullify the whole law altogether, while the youth groups and the Muslims lawyers asked to declare unconstitutional only certain portions of it.

More petitions are expected in the coming days.

President Rodrigo Duterte signed the law on July 3 despite heavy opposition over fears it could be used to silence government critics.

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