MANILA — Just hours before the oral arguments on the Anti-Terrorism Act before the Supreme Court began Tuesday, two Aetas who have been charged with terrorism asked for the court's permission for them to intervene in the petitions challenging the new law.
Japer Gurung and Junior Ramos, through their lawyers from the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers-Central Luzon, filed a petition-in-intervention, alleging direct injury at the hands of law enforcers.
Gurung and Ramos were arrested on August 21, 2020, accused of killing a soldier in an alleged gunfight between the military and Kilusang Larangang Gerilya Bataan Zambales, an alleged unit of the New People’s Army in San Marcelino, Zambales.
They were charged with murder, attempted murder, terrorism under Republic Act 11749 or the Anti-Terrorism Act, as well as violations of RA 11188 (Special Protection of Children in Situations of Armed Conflict Act) and illegal possession of firearms and explosives.
President Rodrigo Duterte signed RA 11749 on July 3, 2020, and the measure took effect 15 days later, or on July 18.
The 2 Aetas denied the allegations, saying they were in fact attempting to flee from the gunfight when soldiers arrested them and their families, after eating the lunch they offered them.
They claimed they were tortured for 6 days, and grenades, ammunitions and subversive documents were planted in their possession.
Gurung claimed he was tied up, repeatedly mauled, placed inside a sack and hung upside down, suffocated with a plastic bag and cigarette smoke over his head, and forced to eat his own feces — all in an attempt to extract confession.
In their petition-in-intervention, the two said they have “actual, material, direct and immediate interest” in the case as the fate of the anti-terror law will also determine whether they will continue to be held in trial.
This is the first time a petition has claimed direct injury, saying section 4 of the law defining terrorism is unconstitutional as applied to them.
All 37 petitions pending before the Supreme Court have invoked facial challenge, questioning the law solely on the basis of its language without regard to its application, which is only allowed in freedom of expression cases.
An actual case or controversy is one of the requisites of judicial review.
The Office of the Solicitor General has questioned the lack of an actual case or controversy in the petitions filed before the SC.
Gurung and Ramos claim the definition of terrorism fails to give fair notice to ordinary citizens as to what is lawful and prohibited.
“Aside from the place and approximate date and time of the incident in question, the only ultimate fact alleged in the Information is the ‘firing and shooting’ at military elements. The purported intent and purpose behind the said act consists of mere conclusory statements,” they said.
“If the allegations are hypothetically admitted, the act of ‘firing and shooting’ is too equivocal to signify intent to cause serious bodily harm, death or endangerment of persons together with the purpose of intimidating the general public, spreading a message of fear or seriously undermining public safety," they added.
"The Information does not foreclose other interpretations of 'firing and shooting' in the absence of factual circumstances denoting the 'nature and context' of the said act. The resulting death of Sgt. Dilao may indicate intent to kill as may qualify it as either murder or homicide, but not intent to commit terrorism,” they argued.
They also claimed the vague definition gives unfettered discretion to law enforcers which leads to arbitrary and discriminatory implementation of the law.
They asked the high court to stop the implementation of the law and declare it void.