Lawyers press facial review of terror law
MANILA, Philippines — One need not be charged to contest the legality of the antiterrorism law in the Supreme Court since it impinges on free speech and other civil rights, argued two lawyers who represented petitioners opposing Republic Act No. 11479.
In fact, human rights lawyer Jose Manuel Diokno said on Wednesday, the high court had actually held in several of its decisions that a law restricting freedom of speech may be subjected to a facial challenge without the need for a complaint from a party that suffered injury.
“We maintain that the law is subject to a facial review because it is imposing restrictions on the freedom of speech. It is restricting speech based on its content,” Diokno told the Inquirer. “You don’t have to wait to be charged before you file a petition in this case.”
Former Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares agreed, noting that this actually happened when the 15-member tribunal struck down as unconstitutional certain provisions of RA 10175, or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, which involved freedom of speech.
Colmenares said the magistrates also recognized the facial review when it rejected some portions of RA 10354, better known as the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012, that flouted the religious beliefs of health workers.
In both instances, he said the petitions were given due course by the Supreme Court even though the petitioners did not suffer “actual and direct injury.”
The two lawyers made the remarks a day after the first round of oral arguments on the law where Associate Justice Marvic Leonen suggested that the 37 petitions against the law were premature because none of the groups of petitioners were injured by the law, which President Duterte signed in July last year.
But Diokno, dean of the De La Salle University College of Law, said the petitioners had the right to seek redress from the high court since RA 11479, on its face, violated their civil and political rights.
Moreover, two Aeta tribesmen, who were the first casualties of the law after they were charged of committing terrorism as alleged members of the New People’s Army (NPA), also sought to join the 37 petitions.
Japer Gurung and Junior Ramos, who filed their petition for intervention moments before the tribunal started the oral arguments, claimed that they were unlawfully arrested and tortured by soldiers who engaged NPA rebels in a gun battle in Zambales province on Aug. 21, 2020.
“While the case of the Aetas will strengthen our petitions because there’s now a question on an actual application of the law, it does not mean that our petitions should not be given attention,” Colmenares stressed.
“In the case of the antiterror law, the ‘injury’ is that the law ‘chills’ the exercise of the freedom of expression. This chilling effect on free speech is already a threat and injury on us,” he said.
For former Vice President Jejomar Binay, himself a civil rights lawyer before becoming a politician, the arguments before the Supreme Court should be required listening or viewing for every civic-minded citizen.
“Our challenge is to wake the larger populace to the dangers posed by the antiterror law to their rights as citizens and their very existence as human beings entitled to be treated with dignity,” he said in a statement on Wednesday.
Binay warned that “if we waver in our vigilance, future generations might find themselves living in a society where the Constitution offers neither solace nor protection to the aggrieved.”
For Binay, a detainee during the Marcosian martial law years, the antiterror law wants the public to trust government institutions “with a tarnished track record of abuse and misconduct.”
He alleged the police and military had been planting evidence and filing false charges against innocent civilians ever since.
“They habitually abuse their authority over common citizens and have been involved in criminal activities. Of late, they have displayed an arrogant distaste for facts, denouncing groups and individuals as terrorists without offering proof or on the basis of wrong information. Publicly, they make veiled threats of inflicting physical harm,” Binay explained.
The wide discretion given by the law for these agencies to deprive individuals of their constitutional rights would “[give] them a free pass to continue with their wanton ways, unbothered by accountability.”
“These provisions of the law, unless they are struck down by judicial intervention, could result in a democracy mangled beyond repair. They institutionalize curtailment of certain rights and legitimize draconian measures against citizens,” Binay said.
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