OSG lawyers admit terror acts not clearly defined in controversial law
MANILA, Philippines — Government lawyers on Tuesday conceded that the Anti-Terrorism Act did not clearly define actions that could be deemed as terrorist acts, an admission that could deliver a legal blow to the constitutionality of the controversial statute.
At the continuation of oral arguments on petitions contesting the law, justices of the Supreme Court quizzed the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) on the provision of Republic Act No. 11479, or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, that declared certain activities as acts of terror.
The magistrates also questioned anew the authority of the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC), that Associate Justice Amy Lazaro-Javier had described as an “administrative body that performs a judicial function.”
Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa pointed out that the law and its implementing rules and regulations did not categorically provide the meaning of a number of legal terms, such as “atmosphere of fear,” “extensive interference” and “to provoke or influence by intimidation the government.”
A former chief presidential legal counsel, Caguioa was referring to the contents of Section 4 of the law, which enumerated specific actions that the government considered as terror acts.
Prone to abuse
The 37 group of petitioners against the law had argued that its failure to define terrorism was among the reasons why it should be struck down as unconstitutional as this would make it prone to abuse by authorities.
“Is there any provision or any other language in the law that provides the standards for an understanding of what an ‘atmosphere of fear’ is? Or what ‘provoke or influence by intimidation’ means?” Caguioa asked Assistant Solicitor General Raymund Rigodon.
Rigodon, who had been fielding questions from the magistrates along with Assistant Solicitor General Marissa Galandines, said the antiterror law did not explain the terms mentioned by Caguioa.
The state lawyer also admitted that the rule on statutory construction states that “if the intention [of the law] is not to give a word a technical meaning, it should be interpreted in its ordinary meaning.”
“We can refer to the definitions found in the [Merriam]-Webster dictionary,” Rigodon said.
But Caguioa stressed that the antiterror law would have serious implications on the fundamental rights of individuals suspected of committing terrorism.
“Are you saying that [a person can be arrested] even if there’s no standard or if that standard is susceptible to different interpretations?” he asked Rigodon.
“If the ATC does not issue the authority for policemen to arrest a person for violation of the antiterror law, then the decision to arrest based on the provisions of the law rests with the arresting officer. And yet, that person will have no standard to understand what ‘intimidating the general public’ means,” Caguioa pointed out.
Associate Justice Rodil Zalameda also agreed that the phrase “to provoke the government” was “vague” because the law did not spell out its intended meaning.
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