27th petitioners vs. anti-terror law: Even Duterte’s words could be 'threats to commit terrorism'

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 10 2020 06:23 PM

MANILA – Even President Rodrigo Diuterte’s own words could be considered “threats to commit terrorism” under the new anti-terror law, said a new group of petitioners against the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.

A group of lawyers, media practitioners and law professors filed on Monday the 27th petition against the new law, asking the Supreme Court to declare it unconstitutional and stop its implementation.

Center for International Law (CenterLaw) lawyers, led by Gilbert Andres, and VERA Files journalists, led by veteran journalist Ellen Tordesillas, filed a petition for certiorari and prohibition with the high court, faulting the “haphazard enactment” of the new law, which they said reveals the government’s “misplaced priorities” in the midst of a deadly pandemic.

They were joined by Foundation for Media Alternatives, Inc., democracy.net.ph, and law professors from the Lyceum of the Philippines University College of Law, led by Dean Ma. Soledad Deriquito-Mawis.

“[T]he passage of the Anti-Terrorism Act by Congress, with all its ambiguities, patent violations of the separation of powers, and grave transgressions of fundamental human rights, show that even Senators and Members of the House of Representative – all high officials of the land – are grossly remiss, if not abusive of their powers and duties,” they said in their 124-page petition.

“If these senators and representatives can err gravely on the crafting and interpretation of the Act, what more the ordinary policemen and the ill-trained military personnel who are tasked with its implementation?,” they asked.

They impleaded as respondents the Senate and the House of Representatives, the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) and its members, the Philippine National Police (PNP), the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).

The new petitioners echoed the arguments of 26 other sets of petitioners assailing the vagueness and broad coverage of the definition of terrorism and related offenses, including threats to commit terrorism, citing Duterte's own words as example.

“As much as Petitioners do not agree with the threats by the President to kill drug personalities or to destroy the oligarchs -- which may be considered as threats to commit terrorism as defined in the law --- Petitioners value more the premium that the Constitution gives to the freedom to express oneself,” they argued. “This unjust restriction of a person’s thoughts, ideas, and notions clearly tramples upon freedom of speech and expression.”

The vagueness, they said, of which acts, objects or documents are terrorism-related will have a “chilling effect” on ordinary persons “overcome with fear in not knowing if he/she can still exercise his/her right to free speech through such avenues.”

They said the law will affect them because as journalists, human rights defenders and advocates of open and public digital space, they may gather materials whose possession could become basis for prosecution under the law.

Law professors and lawyers will also be affected since class discussions will be restricted, and even legal representation of persons accused or suspected of terrorism may also be criminalized.

The effect, they said, would be to “silence” the people out of fear of being considered a terrorist under the law, especially if interpretation is left in the hands of law enforcers.

Petitioners also questioned the automatic adoption of the list of terrorists under the United Nations Security Council in section 10 of the new law, which, they argued, cannot be a sufficient basis for conviction in Philippine courts for crimes that may be punished with life in prison without parole.

This, they said, would constitute a bill of attainder, prohibited under the Constitution’s bill of rights because it inflicts punishment without trial, and would also violate a person’s right to due process or the chance to be heard, particularly if it ends up in freezing of assets by the Anti-Money Laundering Council upon mere designation by the ATC.

Petitioners asserted the ATC usurps judicial functions and violates separation of powers because it can also authorize the surveillance, arrest and detention of suspected terrorists without a court warrant. These acts, they said, violate as well the right against unreasonable searches under the Constitution.

Another provision they objected to is section 16 which compels telecommunication service providers and internet service providers to disclose computer data.

They pointed out that the SC, in resolving petitions against the Cybercrime Prevention Act in the case of Disini vs. Secretary of Justice, struck down as unconstitutional a provision which would have allowed the government to collect and record data without sufficient restraint, that could lead to a “fishing expedition” and violate privacy rights.

In addition, petitioners said the right to bail is restricted by allowing the detention of suspected terrorists without charge for 24 days – way beyond the 3-day limit under the Constitution -- as well as the accompanying restrictions on the right to travel, even if out on bail, by being placed on house arrest without access to communications to and from the outside world.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque earlier said Malacañang welcomes the filing of petitions at the SC as it will be an opportunity to determine if the new law is unconstitutional.

Roque, once a staunch human rights defender, was a co-founder of CenterLaw.