MANILA - It's not just lawyers, journalists and human rights advocates who are rallying against the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020. Bloggers, social media influencers and thought leaders joined the fight on Wednesday by filing their own petition against the new law before the Supreme Court.
Calling themselves "concerned online citizens," 19 vloggers, bloggers, advocates, artists, writers and community managers asked the high court to strike down certain provisions of Republic Act 11479 and stop their implementation.
The petitioners include online personalities Mark Averilla (Macoy Dubs) and Marita Dinglasan (Aling Marie), spoken word artist and writer Juan Miguel Severo, blogger Jover Laurio (Pinoy Ako Blog), blogger and columnist Tonyo Cruz, blogger and former lawmaker Mong Palatino and mental health champion Dr. Gia Sison.
"The Philippines, including our portion of the Internet, must be free," they said in their petition.
"The Constitution and international human rights obligations must also apply to the Internet: Bill of Rights, that includes the essentials of due process," they added.
The petition, although the 21st to be filed against the Anti-Terrorism Act, is the first plea filed that focuses on the new law's impact on a specific medium -- the internet, specifically, on social media.
"We are reminded that our rights, whether offline or online, should be protected. This case of the concerned online citizens touches on the vulnerability and susceptibility of online Filipinos mostly in social media to be victims of vague and broad definitions of terrorism or acts of terror," Rodel Taton, the lawyer of the petitioners, said in a statement.
"One can easily be tagged as terrorist or terrorist sympathizer, or terrorist enabler and anyone may be subjected to surveillance, attack and even to peddled fake and false news against their persons," added Taton, who is also Dean of College of San Sebastian Graduate School of Law.
Cruz, one of the petitioners, said their plea was "a fight for and on behalf of 73 million online Filipinos."
"If we do not fight and if the court won’t take action, the terror law could easily be used to stifle Internet freedom in the guise of fighting terror. The government has been using the Cybercrime Law before to silence critics, even ordinary citizens. The terror law is the new weapon of a tyrannical government,” he said.
The new law, according to the new set of petitioners, "accomplishes what real terrorists, as well as corrupt and incompetent officials and other violators of the law themselves wish to do: create a climate of fear, limit our liberties and freedoms, evade and pass accountability for their acts, and disrupt our supposedly democratic way of life."
It is "like a sword hanging over the heads of citizens who are now mostly conducting on the Internet interactions, transactions, commerce and business, media consumption, availment of government services, and public debate on national issues," they said.
They warned that "'(m)ere suspicion' by unelected executive officials who have hypersensitivity to any or all forms criticism could mete anyone a charge of 'terrorism'."
Named as respondents in the petition are Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, the members of the Anti-Terrorism Council, Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Filemon Santos, Jr. and Philippine National Police Chief Archie Francisco Gamboa.
The petitioners asked the SC to declare the following as unconstitutional:
- sections 4 to 12 of the law defining terrorism and related offenses;
- sections 25 to 27, allowing the Anti-Terrorism Council to designate, and the Court of Appeals to preliminarily proscribe terrorists or terrorist groups on the basis of suspicion; and,
- section 29, allowing arrest without a warrant and detention without charge of up to 24 days.
The vague and broad definition of "terrorism," they said, leaves common citizens wondering whether their actions are protected under the Constitution, or their activities are considered "terrorist acts", since section 4 does not define the terroristic acts themselves but focuses on the "intent" of alleged terrorists.
The group said this violates the due process clause and could lead to "arbitrary application by law enforcers and may chill the people to silence."
Citing previous incidents of "arbitrary" enforcement of laws such as the illegal arrest of a teacher in Zambales for posting a Tweet against the President, the petitioners said they, too, faced the possibility of "being tracked down, followed, or investigated, or having their messages, conversations, discussions, spoken or written words tapped, listened, intercepted and recorded through various means, including computer and network surveillance, all of which are violative of their constitutional rights to privacy, free speech, free expression and their right against unreasonable searches and seizures."
"The government has done and so it is doing online mechanisms to capture, regulate and control content online," they claimed.
They said the designation of terrorists by the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC), composed of purely Executive officials, and the preliminary proscription of terrorists by the Court of Appeals on the basis solely of an application by the Department of Justice violate the right to due process. Suspects are not even given the chance to be heard nor to contest the designation or the order of preliminary proscription, they reasoned.
The designation and proscription, they warned, could lead to warrantless arrest, detention without charge and freezing of assets by the Anti-Money Laundering Council.
"Certainly, the threat of being designated, declared, and proscribed as a terrorist, terrorist group, organization, or association 一 coupled with the very real effects of freezing of assets and widespread publication — would cow even the staunchest critics of any administration," the petitioners said, denouncing the threat of prior restraint on the exercise of their freedom of speech and related rights.
The group added the power given to the ATC to authorize arrest without a warrant encroaches judicial functions and violates the Constitution.
The 20 petitions previously filed against the new anti-terror law were by the following individuals and groups:
1. the Calleja group
2. Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman
3. FEU Law Dean Mel Sta. Maria and FEU Law professors
4. Makabayan bloc
5. Ex-Office of the Government Corporate Counsel chief Rudolf Philip Jurado
6. Center for Trade Union and Human Rights
7. Constitution framers and Ateneo lawyers
9. Labor groups led by Federation of Free Workers
10. Jose Ferrer, Jr.
11. Bagong Alyansang Makabayan group
12. Ex-Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, ex-Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales and UP Law professors
13. Senators Leila de Lima, Francis Pangilinan, lawmakers, Constitution framers and veteran journalists
14. National Union of Journalists of the Philippines
15. Katapat and youth groups from UP, Ateneo, De La Salle and UST
16. Muslim lawyers
17. Alternative Law Groups
18. Bishops and church leaders led by Manila Bishop Broderick Pabillo
20. Cebu-based students and youth leaders