Five more petitions were filed on Thursday before the Supreme Court seeking to nullify Republic Act No. 11479, or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 (ATA) for being unconstitutional.
The petitioners claimed that the ATA effectively declares peaceful assemblies like the 1986 People Power Revolution as an act of terrorism.
The new petitions brought the total number of petitions filed with the high court against the ATA to 16 since President Rodrigo Duterte signed the measure on July 3.
After retired high court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and former high court Justice and former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales filed the 11th petition on Wednesday, the 12th group of petitioners were led by 1986 Constitutional Commission members Dr. Florangel Rosario-Braid and Prof. Edumundo Garcia.
A team from the Justice department, meanwhile, will convene today, Friday, to discuss the implementing rules of the ATA, its top official said Thursday.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the department’s team will brainstorm and identify the provisions of the ATA that will need implementing rules and regulations.
“We will consult with the legal team of the OP [Office of the President], as well as with the secretariat of the ATC [Anti-Terrorism Council], as we go along,” Guevarra said in a text message.
He made his statement even as Solicitor General Jose Calida said Thursday the ATA was already in effect even if the government had yet to craft its implementing rules and regulations.
In a statement, Calida, citing cases previously decided on by the Supreme Court, said laws were not contingent on the implementing rules.
“To claim that the law is ineffective until implementing rules are promulgated creates an absurd situation where an agency can delay the effectivity of the law by delaying the promulgation of its rules,” Calida said.
“To argue that a law is less than the law because it is made to depend on a future event or act is to rob Congress of its plenary power to act wisely for the public welfare.”
In their petition, Braid and Garcia, along with some lawmakers and media personalities as co-petitioners, asked the high court to issue a temporary restraining order or a preliminary injunction, or both, until the magistrates resolved their main plea to declare the entire law or some of its provisions unconstitutional for violating the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of expression and the right of the people to peaceably assemble and petition the government for the redress of grievances.
The petitioners asked the high court to set the case for oral arguments, and after due proceedings, to make the TRO, injunction, and temporary protection orders permanent.
The co-petitioners included lawmakers: Rep. Kit Belmonte, Senators Leila de Lima and Francis Pangilinan, former Senators Sergio Osmeña III and Wigberto Tañada, former Deputy Speaker Erin Tañada and former Akbayan party-list Rep. Etta Rosales, journalists Ceres Doyo, Lilibeth Frondoso, Chay Hofileña, Rachel Khan, Jo-Ann Maglipon, John Nery, Beatrice Puente, who is Philippine Collegian editor-in-chief, Maria Ressa and Maritess Vitug, and former Senate secretary Lutgardo Barbo and law professor Chel Diokno.
They said the definition of terrorism under the law is “vague and overbroad,” which may be used as “a weapon against constitutionally protected speech and speech-related conduct.
They said the ATA creates free speech as crime of inciting to terrorism under Section 9 and then ties it to a new definition of the crime of terrorism which is found in Section 4.
The petitioners said that ATA’s definition of terrorism encompasses speech and conduct protected by the Constitution, including non-violent assemblies like the 1986 People Power Revolution.
“Calling on the people to exercise this fundamental right is speech that is clearly protected by the Constitution. And yet, it would fall under acts that would constitute inciting to terrorism as defined in the ATA,” the petitioners said.
“In the same vein, calling on the people to peaceably assemble to support a call for the President to step down or for Congress to remove him because he is physically or mentally unfit to govern is protected speech that would also be swept into the definition of inciting to terrorism.”
Named respondents in the petitione were Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, Information and Communications Technology Secretary Gregorio Honasan II, Anti-Money Laundering Council Executive Director Mel Georgie Racela, Budget and Management Secretary Wendel Avisado, the Anti-Terrorism Council and the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency.
Several journalists led by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines filed the 13th petition against the ATA. They also assailed the vague definition of the crime of terrorism, which they claim violates freedom of speech and expression.
The NUJP says the ATA violates the right to liberty without due process and the doctrine of separation of powers.
On the other hand, youth groups such as the Kabataang Tagapagtanggol ng Karapatan, Youth for Human Rights and Democracy, Youth Act Now Against Tyranny, Millennials PH, Samahan ng Progresibong Kabataan, Good Gov PH, Youth Strike 4 Climate Philippines, Liberal Youth of the Philippines, Aksyon Kabataan, La Salle Debate Society, DLSU University Student Government, Sanggunian ng mga Mag-Aaral ng Paaralang Loyola ng Ateneo de Manila, UP Diliman University Student Council, University of Santo Tomas Central Student Council, and the Student Council Alliance filed the 14th petition questioning the constitutionality of the ATA.
The 15th group of petitioners against the ATA are composed of Muslim human rights lawyers: Algamar Latih, Bantuas Lucman, Musa Malayang and Dalomilang Parahiman.
They claimed that while the ATA is laudable, it has provisions that “undermine the safety and interest of the people that it seeks to protect from terrorism.
“The vague provisions would victimize innocent people; they will be at the mercy of the preconceived notion of the law enforcers interpreting the provisions of R.A. 11479. Ordinary people would not have sufficient guidance from the law on what specific acts are prohibited.”