MANILA -- Three more groups on Friday filed new petitions contesting the constitutionality of the Anti-Terrorism Act before the Supreme Court, raising the total number of petitions against the law to 19.
The Alternative Law Groups, a coalition of 18 NGOs engaged in alternative or developmental lawyering, filed the 17th petition against the new law.
They expressed concern that their work delivering legal services to basic sectors and grassroots communities all over the country such as peasants, indigenous communities, fisherfolks and the urban poor would be hampered and that they were at imminent risk of becoming victims of grave human rights violations.
"Petitioner faces a real threat that their acts of providing 'expert advice and assistance' to such individuals or entities would be construed as violations of Section 12 (providing material support to terrorists), making them liable as principals to the crime of terrorism and subject to the same penalties. R.A. No. 11479 does not exempt bona fide civil society organizations from its purview," it said in its 130-page petition, claiming a "chilling effect" on their legitimate functions.
A group of bishops, church leaders and religious organizations led by Manila Bishop Broderick Pabillo, meanwhile, filed the 18th petition citing credible threats that they would be prosecuted under the law.
"We are concerned how the anti-terror law will shrink democratic space because of fear. This will affect the lives of many people and only weaken democracy in our country. From fisherfolk to indigenous peoples and urban poor to rural farmers, anyone who dares to speak in dissent or organize for positive community development will be affected by the possible threats of the Anti-Terror Law," Pabillo said in a statement issued by "One Voice," the collective name of the group.
The religious organizations whom some petitioners belong to, such as the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, the United Church of Christ in the Philippines and the National Council of Churches in the Philippines have previously been tagged as terrorists or communist fronts and accused of providing funds to supposed rebels.
Women's group Gabriela and some women leaders, for their part, claimed the anti-terror law poses a valid threat to women, quoting the President's own words "Shoot them in the Vagina" on the very first page of their petition -- the 19th challenge to the Anti-Terrorism Act.
Gabriela said the new law would in effect classify 36 years of Gabriela's work promoting rights and interests of marginalized women as an act of terrorism, stressing that even before the law took effect, the organization had been red-baited and some of its officers charged with "trumped up" crimes ranging from murder to perjury to illegal possession of explosives.
All 3 petitions assail the vague definition of terrorism and related offenses under the law, which petitioners said, would leave people guessing as to what exactly is being punished by the law and would give law enforcers unbridled discretion to interpret the law, violating people's rights to due process.
The Pabillo petition pointed out that section 6 on planning to commit terrorism and section 9 on inciting to commit terrorism punishes mere collecting or making documents, and speeches, proclamations, writings, emblems, banners, respectively.
And because the provisions are not narrowly-drawn or least restrictive, they violate people's right to free speech, the group said.
Petitioners also alleged violations to rights to privacy, association and the right against unreasonable searches and seizure.
Beyond individual rights, they also questioned the powers given to the Anti-Terrorism Council, a purely executive body, who can designate terrorists and terrorist groups based on suspicion, authorize their arrests and detention for up to 24 days, and order the Anti-Money Laundering Council to freeze their assets.
Gabriela said the ATC's authorization takes the place of warrants of arrests which only judges can issue, violating the separation of powers and the presumption of innocence.
It warned, the perils of the "fatally-defective Anti-Terrorism law lurks for everyone."
"[I]f the implementation of the assailed law is not restrained by this Honorable Court, one day, we might as well have countless of "terrorists" amongst us -- not the real ones though, but those who are red-tagged and "terrorized" by the state for the work that they do in the service of the Filipino people," it said.
All 3 petitions sought to nullify the entire Anti-Terrorism Act and stop its implementation. The Gabriela petition took the extra step of seeking to prevent even the convening of the Anti-Terrorism Council and the drafting of the Implementing Rules and Regulations of the law.
The Pabillo and Gabriela petitions named the President, the Senate, the House of Representatives and the Executive Secretary as respondents while the Alternative Law Groups only named Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea as respondent.
More petitions are expected to be filed next week to add to the 19 petitions against the Anti-Terrorism Act.