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Petitioners ask SC to nullify 'haphazard' law

27th petition vs ‘terror law’ filed by lawyers, journalists, rights advocates

/ 07:15 PM August 10, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — The Ant-Terrorism Act of 2020 is a “haphazard enactment” by Congress, a coalition of journalists, lawyers, human rights defenders, activists, and law professors said as they filed their petition before the Supreme Court to declare the controversial measure as unconstitutional.

“This Petition reveals the Respondents’ misplaced priorities in the midst of a deadly COVID-19 pandemic and lays bare the government’s design to weaponize the law to suppress fundamental freedoms,” petitioners led by Center for International Law (CenterLaw) said.

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Joining CenterLaw in the petition are the Foundation for Media Alternatives (FMA), Inc., Democracy.net.ph, Inc, VERA Files, Inc., and individuals such as journalist Ellen Tordesillas, lawyer Romel Regalado Bagares and law professors from the Lyceum of the Philippines led by its dean, M. Soledad Deriquito-Mawis.

This is the 27th petition assailing the constitutionality of the new anti-terror law, officially Republic Act No. 11479, which was enacted last July 3.

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Named respondents in the petition are Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, the Senate and the House of Representatives, officials of the Anti-Terrorism Council as well as Armed Forces chief, Gen. Gilbert Gapay, PNP Director General Archie Gamboa and National Bureau of Investigation OIC Eric Distor.

Repugnant to the Constitution

Petitioners said Republic Act No. 11479 has penalized acts regardless of stage of execution “beginning with expressions of thoughts, to associations of persons, and to the very acts resulting in death, injury or damage, including ‘ordinary crimes’ under existing laws.”

In particular, the petitioners said eight out of nine provisions of assailed law, Sections 4 to 10 and 12 are “repugnant to the Constitution for transgressing fundamental rights, including the right to freedom of speech, the right of the people to peaceably assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances, and the right to freedom of association.”

They said the law provides that terrorism is regardless of the stage of execution criminalizes mere intent and preparatory acts, which they added, necessarily include speech, symbolic speech, and expressions of thought.

“Criminalizing whatever actions regardless of the stage of their execution remove the restriction that only overt acts should be punished under the law. Since the stages of execution are not given any context in the Anti-Terrorism Act, a person will be vulnerable to being tagged as a terrorist even though that person has not presented any real danger to society,” they said.

Petitioners said the country’s laws have always required overt illegal acts to be the standard when it comes to punishment.

This “broad definition of terrorism,” they argued, “essentially restricts the ideas of an individual and his or her freedom to express in the form of literature, artwork, and another medium that may be seen as acts of terrorism as defined in Section 4.”

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“Furthermore, eight more provisions —Sections 16, 17, 25, 29, 34, 36, 45, and 46 — of the Anti-Terrorism Act are also inimical to the Constitution for transgressing fundamental rights, including the right against unreasonable searches and seizures, the right to privacy, and the right to privacy of communication. Some of these provisions also transgress the due process clause and the Constitutional principle of separation of powers,” they added.

Like previous petitioners, they also questioned the power and authority granted to the Anti-Terrorism Council, whose members are officials of the Executive department, saying that it gives the body “unbounded power and discretion to the police and the military in ascertaining and declaring what constitute acts of terrorism.”

Further, the petitioners also said the ATC has the authority to order the arrest of mere suspects who may be detained for 24 days without bringing charges against them in court, in contravention of the due process clause in the Constitution.

“This is open to abuse on the ground considering the lack of training of law enforcers and military personnel,” they added.

Petitioners said it is true that the government under the law is duty-bound to protect the public from the horrors of terrorism.

“But the method by which the State seeks to repress terrorism must not be repressive in itself. Else, the State ironically transforms into a hideous principal terrorist itself,” petitioners said.

EDV

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TAGS: 1987 Constitution, Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, Republic Act No. 11479, Supreme Court, Terrorism
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