MANILA - Claiming the recently passed anti-terrorism law threatens Muslims with discriminatory arrests, a group of Muslim lawmakers, lawyers, and residents of Mindanao questioned the constitutionality of the Anti-Terrorism Act before the Supreme Court on Monday.
House Deputy Speaker Mujiv Hataman and Anak Mindanao (AMIN) Party-list Rep. Amihilda Sangcopan led the group that became the 22nd petitioners to challenge the new law, saying deep-seated prejudice and Islamophobia could only lead to more Muslims getting wrongly arrested.
"In Mindanao, especially in Muslim communities, it is a frequent occurrence that mosque-goers, Quran reciters, prayer-callers, even simple market vendors and truck drivers are dragged away by law enforcers--simply on suspicion that they are supporters, relatives, co-conspirators or active participants in acts of rebellion, kidnapping, and what now constitutes terrorism," the petition said citing reports of numerous Muslims mistakenly arrested and jailed.
"This is more than several simple cases of mistaken identity. This is prejudice and injustice in unfounded fear of Muslims. It is religious discrimination, plain and simple. The herein assailed law threatens to legalize these clearly abhorrent state actions," it claimed.
Hataman and Sangcopan were joined by lawyers Satrina Mohammad, Jamar Kulayan, Alman-Najar Namia and Bensaud Degusman, visual artist Remeer Tawasil, and imam Sheikh Jamsir Jainal.
Named as respondents were the Anti-Terrorism Council, its members, the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, the Senate, and the House of Representatives.
Petitioners anchored their plea on twin violations of religious freedom and the right to free expression.
They said the provisions under the Anti-Terrorism Act punishing inciting to and proposal to commit terrorism, as well as recruitment and membership in a terrorist organization, could curtail the free exercise of their religion.
"When before we can immediately exclaim 'Allahu Akbar' on hearing good news or when praising Allah, we now have to be first conscious of the place and of our surroundings. When before we could point our index finger to testify to the oneness of Allah, it is now seen as allegiance to ISIL. When before we can have pocket Quran in our backpacks, the same Quran can now be used as evidence of our indoctrination. All these can now [be] used as bases for 'designating' herein petitioners as terrorists," they said.
"Also, the state's response to terrorism, particularly its law enforcement, has [led] to the arrest of innocent individuals on the basis of mere suspicions and unverified informations. Most of these individuals, if not all, were Muslims, an identity shared by petitioners," they added.
Petitioners said that Muslim preachers could not even talk about "jihad" -- which refers to a meritorious struggle -- out of fear that it would be taken to mean "holy war" and tied to terrorism. This also constitutes prior restraint in violation of freedom of expression, they argued.
The vagueness and the broadness of the terms used in the law, they added, do not inform the people of which acts are punishable and leaves law enforcers with unbridled authority to interpret the law according to their own understanding or expand its scope beyond what the legislature intended.
The fear of abuse, they insisted, is not unfounded. They cited several incidents of wrongful arrests of Muslims and a directive issued by the National Capital Region police chief just before the law was passed for all police district offices in Manila to update the profiles of Filipino Muslim students in Metro Manila.
Petitioners also questioned the Anti-Terrorism Council's power to designate terrorists and terrorist organizations based on suspicion and to authorize arrests as violations of constitutional rights to due process and to be presumed innocent, the guaranty against unreasonable seizure and constitutes usurpation of judicial functions.
Hataman and Sangcopan also invoked their positions as lawmakers in claiming Republic Act 11479 was not lawfully passed in the House of Representatives due to lack of quorum, saying only 25 out of around 300 lawmakers were physically present in the Batasan Complex on June 5, 2020 while the other representatives voted via Zoom or through their Viber group chat. The 1987 Constitution, they said, requires physical presence or attendance of members of Congress.
Apart from asking the high court to declare the entire Anti-Terrorism Act unconstitutional, petitioners also asked SC to stop the implementation of the law.
They clarified however that despite their concerns, they are against terrorism and are for peace, but not at the expense of liberties.
"Peace at any price is not peace, and the human cost is beyond exorbitant," they said.
Aside from Hataman's group, another group of Mindanawons filed the 23rd petition againt the anti-terrorism law on Monday. Petitioners are composed of a Moro leader, a human rights worker, 3 journalists and an organization advancing indigenous peoples or Lumad's rights.