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Groups challenge ‘terror’ act

Anti-Terrorism Act takes effect July 18; Fight measure, VP urges

Lawyers and a former Education Secretary challenged before the Supreme Court Saturday the constitutionality of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, signed into law Friday by President Rodrigo Duterte but which takes effect on July 18.

READ: Rody okays anti-terror bill

In a Facebook post, the group, led by Ateneo and La Salle law professor and lecturer Howard Calleja, filed via electronic filing a Petition for Certiorari and Prohibition against Republic Act 11479, which included a plea for the issuance of a temporary restraining order and writ of preliminary injunction and/or other injunctive remedies.

Apart from Bro. Armin Luistro – former Department of Education chief in the Aquino administration – of the De La Salle Brothers, Inc. and Calleja, other petitioners were Atty. Joseph Peter Calleja, University of the Philippines Law Professor Christopher John Lao, Dr. Reynaldo Echavez, Napoleon Siongco, Raeyan Reposar, civic groups Frontliners: Tunay na Bayani and Bagong Siklab Pilipinas.

The petitioners described the law as “oppressive and inconsistent with our Constitution.”

“This fight against Terrorism should not and should never be a threat to the fundamental freedoms of all peaceful Filipinos,” they said.

The petitioners said they would proceed to the Supreme Court on Monday to physically file the petition and make a complete copy of it available.

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Vice President Leni Robredo on Saturday denounced the passage of the bill amid calls to scrap the measure while the country continued to grapple with the COVID-19 crisis.

Speaking on Teleradyo’s “Omaga-Diaz Report”, Robredo said the Anti-Terrorism Act, which grants government forces sweeping powers to address terrorism, contained provisions that make it susceptible to abuse.

“When I heard it was signed, I was disheartened. It is saddening, frustrating, because this was done despite us being in the middle of a crippling pandemic. This was done despite the opposition of many sectors,” she said.

With the measure’s enactment, Robredo urged the public to “push back” by challenging the law’s constitutionality before the high court, and engaging with Congress to repeal or amend certain provisions of the law.

READ: UNHRC chief to Du30: Don't sign terror bill

But National Security Adviser Secretary Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said law-abiding citizens should not worry about the Anti-Terrorism Act, adding that critics were not closely reading the provisions of the law.

Esperon cited Section 4 of the Republic Act 11479, stating that terrorism “shall not include advocacy, protest, dissent, stoppage of work, industrial or mass action, and other similar exercises of civil and political rights.”

At the same time, the Philippine National Police gave assurances the Anti-Terrorism Act would not be abused, as it welcomed the passage of the law.

“PNP assures that it will not be abused and we shall faithfully uphold all institutional mechanisms that provide safeguards to its implementation,” it said in a statement.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines, meanwhile, said the country now had a powerful law to protect the people against threats by terrorist groups.

“We now have a powerful statute that provides law enforcement agencies the legal wherewithal to protect and defend our people,” said AFP spokesperson Marine Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo in a press statement.

Arevalo said the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 would capacitate government security forces against terrorist groups that cause “inordinate sufferings” to the Filipino people.

“The AFP leadership under General (Filemon) Santos, Jr. thanks the Commander-in-Chief (President Duterte) for his resolve in putting public security and general welfare his primordial consideration in enacting the law that specifically targets terrorists,” he added.

Meanwhile, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said the agency was elated with Duterte’s decision to sign the measure into law. With AFP, PNA

“With this law, the government is better equipped to ensure the safety of our people against the clutches of terrorists and threats. We will also make sure that there will be no abuses on the part of the government agents,” he added in a media statement.

Año said the government “owes this new law to the countless victims of terrorism.”

“We thank the President, concerned senators, and congressmen for making this happen,” he added.

The Commission on Human Rights said it would remain on the lookout against human rights abuses following Duterte’s signing into law of the Anti-Terrorism Act.

“With the law’s passage, CHR will hold on to the government’s commitment, alongside the sponsors and advocates of this law, that human rights will be upheld at all cost,” CHR spokesperson, lawyer Jacqueline Ann de Guia said in a statement.

READ: Duterte OK with 14-day detention in anti-terror bill

De Guia said this includes commitment to protect free speech; the right to dissent and petition redress for grievances; due process and presumption of innocence; and respect for human dignity and the value of human life among others.

“Ensuring that we live in peace is a human right. Let’s not frame human rights as if they are mere hindrances. They are the standards by which we demand actions from the government for a better, dignified life,” the CHR said.

“CHR will continue to be vigilant against abuses and will remain firm in standing up for human rights,” it said.

Amnesty International’s Asia director Nicholas Bequelin said: “Under Duterte’s presidency, even the mildest government critics can be labelled terrorists...This administration has effectively crafted a new weapon to brand and hound any perceived enemies of the state.

“In the prevailing climate of impunity, a law so vague on the definition of ‘terrorism’ can only worsen attacks against human rights defenders.” 

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said:”By signing the anti-terrorism bill into law, President Duterte has pushed Philippines democracy into an abyss.”

“The law threatens to significantly worsen the human rights situation in the Philippines, which has nosedived since the catastrophic ‘war on drugs’ began four years ago,” Robertson added.

Still, the law would be imposed on July 18, 15 days after its publication on the state journal Official Gazette, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque had said.

The law, passed as the country grappled with the coronavirus pandemic, would let Duterte appoint a council that could order warrantless arrests of people it deems are terrorists.

It also allows for up to 24 days of detention without charge, which the government argues is necessary to combat long-running communist and Islamist insurgencies.

“The signing of the... law demonstrates our serious commitment to stamp out terrorism, which has long plagued the country and has caused unimaginable grief and horror to many of our people,” Roque said Friday.

Duterte signed the law on Friday despite objections from various groups, including the United Nations human rights body and the Bangsamoro Transition Authority or BTA.

Duterte signed the measure six days before it would have lapsed into law on July 9.

The Office of the Executive Secretary, Department of Justice and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo earlier gave separate comments on the measure, which has drawn criticism because it allegedly contained provisions that may be used to stifle dissent.

Critics have also warned against the up-to 24-day warrantless detention period for suspected terrorists, and the alleged authority of the Anti-Terrorism Council to authorize in writing the arrest of terrorism suspects.

The BTA has said the legislation should be sent back to Congress to address the issues of “vagueness and overbreadth” as well as other concerns.

BTA interim chief minister Murad Ebrahim feared the Bangsamoro people, “easily labeled as terrorists, would again be subject to discrimination and abuse.”

On Tuesday, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet asked Duterte not to sign the bill, saying the proposal’s looming enactment heightened their concern about the “blurring of important distinctions between criticism, criminality and terrorism.”

READ: ULAP president Cua backs bill on anti-terrorism

Roque replied that developed countries had “more draconian” laws against terrorism, citing those in the United States and the United Kingdom.

The measure defines terrorism as an act committed by a person within or outside the Philippines who engages in activities intended to cause death or serious bodily injury to any person or endangers a person’s life, and to cause extensive damage or destruction to a government or public facility, public place or private property.

Terrorism is likewise committed by a person who engages in acts intended to cause extensive interference with, damage or destruction to critical infrastructure, and develops, manufactures, possesses, acquires, transports, supplies, or uses weapons, explosives or of biological, nuclear, radiological or chemical weapons.

In a related development, Muntinlupa Rep. Rozzano Rufino Biazon, vice chairman of the House committee on national defense, welcomed the President’s signing into law of the anti-terrosism bill.

“As one of those who have been working closely with the anti-terrorism proponents, I congratulate our state forces for achieving what they asked Congress for -- a stronger and more potent law against terrorists,” Biazon said.

He added: “I would just like to tell them that their vigilance in employing the law should include ensuring that it is used only against terrorists, and with the highest regard for civil and political rights of abiding citizens.”

For his part, Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said his group would question the measure’s constitutionality at the Supreme Court soonest. “We would have to continue the fight in all fronts until this terror law is junked,” said Zarate.

He added the President’s signing of the measure “did not come as a surprise since he certified it as urgent to concentrate more tyrannical powers in his hands at the expense of the rights of our people.”

Meanwhile, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers said it was deferring filing the petition it had planned to file with the Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.

According to NUPL President Edre Olalia, upon further consultations and deliberation with their clients, and out of an abundance of caution, they were postponing the filing of their 117-page draft petition dated June 17, 2020 to:

  • to include more petitioners who expressed intense intention to join,
  • to retweak it in view of supervening facts,
  • to complete and reinforce remaining
  • procedural requisites, and
  • to add equally cogent substantive issues so as to ensure that we have covered all bases. With AFP and PNA
Topics: Supreme Court , Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 , Rodrigo Duterte , Armin Luistro
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