Anti-terror law faces more challenges before Supreme Court

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 06 2020 10:31 AM | Updated as of Jul 06 2020 01:27 PM

MANILA (2nd UPDATE) - Four groups on Monday filed separate petitions before the Supreme Court questioning the constitutionality of the Anti-Terrorism Law.

Lawyers led by Howard Calleja and Bro. Armin Luistro of the De La Salle brothers were the first to file a physical copy of the petition they originally filed by email on Saturday.

Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman sent representatives to file the second petition -- the first lawmaker to question the anti-terrorism measure.

Far Eastern University College of Law Dean Mel Sta. Maria and FEU law professors followed suit as well as Makabayan lawmakers which filed a fourth petition.

All 4 groups filed a petition for certiorari and prohibition, questioning the exercise of the discretion of executive officials tasked to implement the Anti-Terrorism Act.

They also urged the high court to issue a temporary restraining order or a writ of preliminary injunction to stop the law from being implemented after July 18, 15 days after it was published in the Official Gazette.

Named as respondents in the petitions were the Executive Secretary, the National Security Adviser, several cabinet secretaries as well as the executive director of the Anti-Money Laundering Council who are part of the Anti-Terrorism Council. Makabayan impleaded President Rodrigo Rodrigo Duterte while Lagman included the House of Representatives and the Senate.

At the core of the 4 petitions is their objection to the "vague and overbroad" definition of terrorism, which they said could cover even legitimate expressions of dissent.

The Makabayan bloc noted that specific crimes enumerated under the Human Security Act of 2007 which constituted terrorism have now given way to mere intention to commit certain acts for specific purposes, which leaves a wide latitude of discretion for authorities to interpret what could constitute terrorism, leading to possible abuses in the law's enforcement.

They said this is alarming considering that other crimes made punishable such as threatening, planning, conspiracy, proposal and inciting to commit terrorism as well as providing material support and recruiting for a terrorist organization are all based on the definition of terrorism and could create a "chilling effect on freedom of expression."

Calleja's group said the vague definition is a violation of substantive due process because people are not properly apprised of what constitutes terrorism.

Petitioners also questioned the grant of authority to the Anti-Terrorism Council, a body composed of purely Executive officials, to designate and proscribe who and which groups can be considered terrorists, including the grant of authority to allow the arrest of suspects without an arrest warrant and keep them in detention without charge for up to 24 days.

These provisions, they said, violate the rights to due process, freedom of speech, expression and of the press and also encroaches upon a purely judicial function to issue warrants of arrest.

The Makabayan bloc also said provisions allowing surveillance of suspects, interception and recording of communications, among others, violate the right to privacy.

Lagman objected to an inordinately long maximum of 6 months of investigation of a suspect's bank accounts and the freezing of assets without judicial authorization as well as the deletion of safeguards under the previous law.

The law's implementing rules and regulations (IRR) cannot rectify its "deficiencies and excesses" as it cannot modify, amend or repeal a statute, Lagman said. Lawmakers who support the measure earlier said critics may participate in crafting the law's implementing rules.

In addition, FEU Law professors argued that the measure violates academic freedom as it allegedly interferes with what they teach and how to teach and is a waste of resources that could be spent on addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the law has yet to take effect, the petitioners insisted a "facial" challenge could now be raised since it involves violations of freedom of speech which can be challenged even without alleging injury.

At least 5 more groups have expressed their intention to file separate petitions against the anti-terrorism measure.