MANILA - Former Vice President Jejomar Binay and former senator Rene Saguisag on Thursday led a team of lawyers in filing a petition before the Supreme Court to nullify the Anti-Terrorism Act, the 25th challenge to the measure.
They also asked the high court to issue a temporary restraining order to stop the implementation of the new law, which they said was void for being vague and broad, and violates the constitutional rights to due process and equal protection.
"If not so voided, the assailed statute will run roughshod over the 1987 Constitution, particularly its salient provisions on the Bill of Rights," the petition said.
Binay and Saguisag, both human rights lawyers who opposed late dictator Ferdinand Marcos' martial law, are convenors and members of the Concerned Lawyers for Civil Liberties, a network of lawyers opposed to violations of people's civil liberties and constitutional rights.
First convened during the time of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2006, it was revived in 2019 on account of "massive human rights violations under the Duterte Administration."
The two were joined by former University of the Philippines College of Law Dean Pacifico Agabin who also serves as the group's counsel, former diplomat Anacleto Rei Lacanilao III, National Union of Peoples' Lawyers President Edre Olalia, law deans Anna Maria Abad and JV Bautista, law professor Rose-Liza Eisma-Osorio and private practitioner Emmanuel Jabla.
The group named President Rodrigo Duterte as among the respondents, along with Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Binay's daughter, Sen. Nancy Binay, is among lawmakers who voted in favor of passing the anti-terror law.
Duterte signed the law on July 3, as the nation grappled with the coronavirus pandemic.
VAGUE AND OVERBROAD
Chief among the group's contentions is the supposed vagueness and overbreadth of the provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Act.
A law is considered vague if it lacks comprehensible standards that leaves citizens guessing in meaning and scope of application, while it is overbroad if it unnecessarily covers protected freedoms.
Aside from citing the definition of terrorism and related offenses as examples of vague terms, the group also noted the expansive definition of a "designated person" whom the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) can authorize to be arrested and detained without charge on the basis of suspicion of involvement in terrorism.
The definition, they said, requires "intensive legal research" because not only does it refer to enumerations under another law, it would also entail looking at the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council or the list of other countries to determine who may be designated as terrorists or terrorist organizations.
In the United Nations alone, there are 16 universal legal instruments responsible for monitoring and designating terrorists aside from other departments with "supranational jurisdictions."
The danger of a vague law, they argued, is that persons are not given fair notice of what to avoid and law enforcers are given unbridled discretion to carry out their own interpretation of the law which could lead to arbitrary enforcement.
That danger, according to petitioners, is "imminent" in the Philippines, quoting a recently released United Nations human rights report which to them shows the government's "obvious disdain for human rights, identifying enemies and scapegoats as a unifying cause, relying mainly on the military and the police, harassing or closing mass media which do not toe the government line, and is completely obsessed with national security."
"There is no doubt that the ATA causes severe 'chilling effect' on freedom of expression, taken in the context of recent political and social events obtaining in the country today," they said.
LAW VIOLATES DUE PROCESS AND EQUAL PROTECTION
Petitioners also questioned the power granted to the ATC to authorize arrests of suspected terrorists, doing away with the determination of probable cause which the Constitution exclusively granted to judges.
The ATC-sanctioned arrests, they said, is not even valid under the Rules of Court which allows warrantless arrests only in cases where the offender is caught in the act of committing a crime, or in hot pursuit, or in the arrest of an escaped prisoner.
In addition, they claimed that the extended period for detention without charges of up to 24 days violates due process while the provision imposing house arrest and restrictions on travel while on bail violates the right to bail and the presumption of innocence.
Lastly, petitioners argued there is no substantial distinction to justify different treatment of suspected terrorists from those accused of other crimes, violating the right to equal protection of suspected terrorists.
"[T]here is no public interest served by the special classification for suspected terrorists under the ATA, especially when the law’s provisions would deny due process to suspected terrorists. There is no reasonable argument to be made or public interest to be served for classifying suspected terrorists and placing them under distinct conditions different from other regular criminal suspects," they said.
Petitioners clarified that they recognize terrorism's harmful impact to Philippine communities and the State's right to defend itself.
"But for a democratic country, like the Philippines, with the Constitution that we have, at the core of the right of the State to employ counter terrorism measures for self-preservation must be found the bedrock of human rights and civil liberties," they said.
They added: "The Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 fails miserably to protect and preserve the guarantees of human rights and civil liberties enshrined in the Constitution and therefore must be struck down."
Earlier, 24 groups and individuals filed petitions against the anti-terror law, including lawyers, lawmakers, militant groups, former senior government officials, journalists, church and youth leaders.