It’s final: SC affirms Anti-Terrorism Act ruling

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 26 2022 04:01 PM | Updated as of Apr 26 2022 08:07 PM

ABS-CBN News/File 
Multi-sectoral groups hold a protest to commemorate International Human Rights Day at the University Acenue in University of the Philippines Diliman, Quezon City on Dec. 9, 2021. Protestors called for the junking of the entirety of the terror law, among others. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/File

 

BAGUIO CITY (UPDATED) — The Supreme Court on Tuesday affirmed with finality its ruling which upheld most of the provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Act.

Meeting in Baguio City for the final week of their summer session, SC magistrates denied the motions for reconsideration filed by various groups of petitioners.

“The Court resolved to deny the motions for reconsideration due to lack of substantial issues and arguments raised by the petitioners,” an SC briefer said.

No copy of the resolution was available as of this posting and no breakdown of the votes was provided. But the briefer said SC justices “maintained their votes in their December 7, 2021 Decision, which was penned by then Associate Justice and now Philippine Judicial Academy Chancellor Rosmari D. Carandang.”

“Newly appointed Associate Justice Antonio T. Kho, Jr. sided with the majority,” it added.

The December 2021 ruling struck down only 2 portions of the controversial measure. 

By a vote of 12-3, justices declared unconstitutional a proviso on section 4 defining terrorism, which exempts advocacy, protest and other similar exercises of civil and political rights from being considered acts of terrorism as long as they are “not intended to cause death or serious physical harm to a person, to endanger a person’s life, or to create a serious risk to public safety.”

Justices, by a 9-6 vote, also voided the second method for designation under section 25 of the law, which allows the Anti-Terrorism Council to adopt “request for designations by other jurisdictions or supranational jurisdictions” if it follows criteria set by a United Nations Security Council resolution. 

Various petitioners in March this year filed separate motions urging the high court to reconsider its position on a number of closely-contested issues.

Petitioners questioned why section 29, which supposedly allows the ATC to authorize warrantless arrests and extended detention for up to 24 days, was declared “not unconstitutional” by 10 justices.

Other provisions petitioners hoped the SC would void included the following. 

- Section 10 which punishes recruitment and membership in a terrorist organization
- Section 9 on inciting to commit terrorism 
- Section 4 on the definition of terrorism
- Section 12 on providing material support to terrorists

A third mode of designation under section 25 of the law which allows the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) to designate an individual, groups of persons, organization or association as terrorists on the basis of its own finding of probable cause barely passed scrutiny with an 8-7 vote, with Carandang voting to declare it unconstitutional. 

It was not immediately clear how Kho, the justice who took her place, voted on this and other issues where Carandang sided with the minority.

Carandang sided with the petitioners in at least 5 issues, including the following. 

- Allowing facial challenge of the Anti-Terrorism Act with respect to freedom of speech, expression and cognate rights issues;
- Declaring the “not intended” clause of section 4 unconstitutional;
- Holding that the phrase “organized for the purpose of engaging in terrorism” is unconstitutional, where she was outvoted 9-6 by other magistrates;
- Declaring the second mode of designation under section 25 unconstitutional; and
- Holding that the third mode of designation under section 25 is unconstitutional, where she was outvoted 8-7 by other justices.

Asked for a breakdown of voting of the justices on the motions for reconsideration, SC spokesperson Brian Keith Hosaka said he did not have “further details other than what was stated in the [press release].”

But he said 6 motions for reconsideration were filed and that Justice Rodil Zalameda was the member in charge of the case.

REACTIONS

Malacañang acting spokesperson Martin Andanar welcomed the ruling as “a triumph for all peace-loving and law-abiding Filipinos as it serves as a stern warning against malevolent elements that the Philippines is not a safe haven for terrorists.”

But for the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), which acted as counsel for petitioner Bayan, the ruling was a letdown. 

“We are quite downhearted that the High Tribunal reportedly did not budge at all on its majority view sustaining practically all the provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Law even as we have to accept and respect it as officers of the court,” NUPL president Edre Olalia said in a statement.

“We still hope that in good time the subject law will be struck down or amended, if not repealed altogether,” he added. “Meanwhile, we will guard and defend against its abuse and misuse against the very people it is supposed to protect. It is even more imperative that we stand our ground for our rights.”

Rights group alliance KARAPATAN said the Anti-Terrorism Act should be junked.

“The terror law is a dangerous piece of legislation which directly harms our basic rights and freedoms” it said in a statement.

The group called on candidates in the May 2022 polls to stand for rights and civil liberties by joining in the call to junk the law.

Labor leader and presidential candidate Leody De Guzman lamented the ruling, calling it a "systematic damage to citizens' rights."

"Hindi ko pa nababasa ang kabuuan ng desisyon pero sa desisyong ito, tiyak ako na wala itong ibang implikasyon kundi ang sistematikong pagsasalaula ng karapatan ng mamamayan na lumalaban sa mga maling patakaran ng gobyerno, mga dambuhalang proyekto ng mga korporasyon at mga ordinaryong manggagawa na nagsusulong ng mga lehitimong at makatwirang kahilingan gaya ng karagdagang sahod at benepisyo, regularisasyon at pagsapi sa unyon," de Guzman said in a statement.

The Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) also considered the decision "unfortunate."

In a statement, FLAG chairperson and senatorial candidate Jose Manuel "Chel" Diokno said that the ruling will "only encourage us to be vigilant for fundamental rights and freedoms that may be impacted by the law."

WHAT FINAL RULING MEANS

The denial with finality of the motions for reconsideration means the high court will no longer entertain additional arguments and pleadings on the issue. 

The SC briefer said an “entry of judgment was immediately ordered by the Court.”

But the SC’s December ruling did not foreclose the possibility of future petitions challenging the constitutionality of the remaining provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Act once these are applied to specific cases. 
 
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