MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte has no unilateral authority to declare an organization as a terrorist group under the newly signed anti-terror law, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said Thursday.
Duterte's tirades against armed communist rebels should be considered as "personal opinion of the president" and not an "official" designation of the group as terrorists, Lacson told reporters in a text message.
"Only the Court of Appeals, under the Anti Terrorism Act of 2020 can order the proscription, not the ATC nor the president," Lacson said.
"There is a judicial process involved - meaning full court intervention via the Court of Appeals, complete with due notice and hearing," he said.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) is also required to show proof in classifying an organization as a terrorist group, said Lacson, the principal sponsor of the law in the Senate.
"Even membership in a proscribed terrorist group goes through the same due process which the DOJ has to prove," he said.
Should an individual or a group be "designated" as terrorists, "it does not involve arrest and detention but a mere signal" for the Anti-Terror Council to ask authorities to freeze their assets, Lacson said.
"Designation for the purpose of freezing the accounts and assets is not exempt from judicial scrutiny since the said designated individual or group can still file a petition with the CA to appeal," he said.
"It is not absolute or discretionary on the part of the ATC."
Lacson's comments came after the Philippine Army said that communist rebels may be covered by the law.
In 2017, Duterte declared the Communist Party of the Philippines - New People's Army as a terror group after peace talks with the group's political arm broke down.
A number of petitions have been filed at the Supreme Court questioning the anti-terror law that Duterte signed on July 3.