Top Supreme Court jurists slam Anti-Terrorism Act provisions
MANILA, Philippines — Two of the most senior justices of the Supreme Court on Wednesday expressed concern on the effects of the designation of suspected terror organizations and their members under the antiterrorism law on individual rights as enshrined in the 1987 Constitution.
On the eighth day of the oral arguments on the 37 petitions opposing the law, Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo and Senior Associate Justice Estela Perlas Bernabe both grilled lawyers from the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) on the process of declaring groups and individuals as terrorists by the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC).
Under Section 25 of Republic Act No. 11479, or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, the ATC is authorized to arbitrarily designate persons and groups as terrorists without due process.
Assistant Solicitor General Marissa Galandines said the Anti-Money Laundering Council may immediately order a freeze order on the assets and properties of those who had been designated terrorists by the ATC, a body composed of nine Cabinet members.
Interpellated by Bernabe, Galandines said that while designated terrorists could be subjected to surveillance operations of the authorities, their designation by the ATC should not necessarily lead to their arrest.
Gesmundo, a former assistant solicitor general, pointed out that that designation would have implications on the reputation of individuals and organizations, along with the properties covered by the freeze order.
“When a designation is made, it affects the reputation, both of the person and the property of the designee, is that not correct?” the chief magistrate asked Galandines.
When she replied in the affirmative, Gesmundo said the issue may involve the due process clause in Section 1, Article III of the Charter, which states that “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.”
In response, Galandines said the designation of terror suspects was just an “executive proceeding” of the ATC that did not require affected parties to be informed of the charges against them.
To which the chief justice replied, “Are you telling us that an administrative proceeding is not covered by the due process clause? That’s elementary in administrative law.”
“Due process clause applies practically in all proceedings—be it criminal, administrative, what have you,” he said.
“That’s even worse. It’s an executive proceeding,” he continued. “It would have been different if it was a judicial proceeding. Is the reputation of a person not covered by the concept of property in the due process clause?”
Bernabe, on the other hand, quizzed Galandines on the authority of ATC to prolong up to 24 days the detention of individuals arrested without a court-issued warrant.
She cited as an example the arrest of a person who was carrying an unlicensed gun and was seen by authorities in the company of a suspected terrorist.
The assistant solicitor general said the person in possession of the illegal firearm may also be detained for a longer period “to prevent the commission of a graver crime of terrorism.”
“Will the authority of the ATC be a license to extend his detention notwithstanding that he is merely being prosecuted for illegal possession of firearm?” Bernabe said.
“That is very dangerous,” she stressed.
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