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SolGen OK with SC voiding 2 provisions of terror law

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The Office of the Solicitor General will not appeal the two provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) discarded by the Supreme Court as it is satisfied with the tribunal’s decision, which critics described as a “devastating blow” to human rights and democracy, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said Sunday.

Año said the two provisions that the Court struck down were “minimal” and would not affect the overall implementation of the law.

He said the Supreme Court decision upholding the ATA, save for the two provisions, was a victory for law-abiding citizens.

The ATA—which has been widely criticized as being open to abuse—was the state's main tool to run after terrorist groups, Año added.

“Rest assured, we will be making the appropriate adjustments to conform to the decision of the high court and continue to implement the ATA strictly as a means of protecting the Filipino people against any and all acts of terrorism,” he said during a radio interview.

Voting 12-3 in an en banc session on Dec. 7, the justices struck down a part of Section 4 of the law for being too broad and violative of freedom of expression.

It referred to the part that said a protest, advocacy or dissent could be considered terrorism if it is intended to cause death or physical harm to a person, to endanger a person's life, or to create a serious risk to public safety.

By a vote of 9-6, the justices also declared as unconstitutional a provision that allows the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) appointed by the President to adopt requests by other agencies, including international organizations, to designate individuals and groups as terrorists.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) said the ATA can curb insurgency, terrorism, and other forms of lawlessness.

“Overall, we still see the law as favorable to the best interest of law and order,” PNP chief Gen. Dionardo Carlos said in a statement.

He echoed Año’s explanation that the law will not be subject to abuse as the Court has made clear that a simple expression of advocacy or dissent or other similar exercises of civil and political rights are not considered terroristic acts.

Senator Panfilo Lacson, one of the principal authors of the ATA, warned those who go beyond the law and violate human rights would be held liable.

"The law is the law and there should be no special treatment, but those who violate human rights must be held accountable and even criminally liable," he said.

Lacson, who is running for president, said the law should target no one else but those committing acts of terrorism.

Lacson earlier welcomed the Supreme Court's ruling that deemed the law, which was challenged by 37 petitioners, constitutional.

Lacson criticized groups that welcomed the Court's decision, then criticized it.

"First they were claiming victory. Next, they claim partial victory.

Now they are whining and saying they will appeal, they are not happy.

Which is which? There is no partial victory. This is a victory for peace," he said.

But the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on Sunday “partly” welcomed the Supreme Court decision.

“CHR has consistently recognized the need to combat terrorism as a means to pursue the people’s right to life, liberty, and physical security. Addressing acts of terror is also crucial in realizing our right to a peaceful and secure environment where we can all enjoy social and economic development,” spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia said.

“But in doing so, we should not compromise all other human rights. It needs to be clear that what a law must punish are terrorist acts and not the mere free exercise of rights, she added.

“We see the Supreme Court decision as an affirmation that activism is not an act of terrorism. Activism is part of a healthy, functional democracy where citizens can express and demand redress for grievances,” she added.

The commission, however, said it is concerned about the provisions about warrantless arrest, extended detention without a formal charge, possible infringements to right to privacy because of surveillance, and absence of adequate safeguards for the erroneous application of the law—which the Court left intact in the law.

De Guia said the commission is still hopeful that the remaining contentious provisions will be clarified by the Supreme Court once it releases the full text of the decision.

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