MANILA – Muslims who have been tagged as Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and Maute members have come forward to question the Anti-Terrorism Act before the Supreme Court, claiming the new law would only intensify prosecution of Muslims for terrorism.
Accusing the government of engaging in ASG-baiting or ASG-tagging, Main Mohammad and Jimmy Bla, both from Zamboanga City, and Nazr Dilangalen from Maguindanao, filed a petition Tuesday seeking to void certain provisions of the anti-terrorism measure.
“The longstanding and ingrained practice of ASG-tagging against Moros whose rights are perpetually violated reinforces the real and credible threat posed by the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020,” they said in their petition citing several incidents of wrongful arrests and mistaken identities dating as far back to the time of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Mohammad and Bla had been accused of being Abu Sayyaf members while Dilangalen was suspected of being a key recruiter of Maute-Abu Sayyaf group responsible for the Marawi Siege.
Mohammad was detained for almost 2 years in Camp Bagong Diwa, where Bla is still currently jailed, while Dilangalen was released after 5 days after he was arrested without a warrant, based solely on an unverified list with 700 names.
The cases against Mohammad and Dilangalen have been dismissed, according to the petition.
The 3 petitioners were joined by the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates and legal aid lawyers Rupert Axel Cruz, Maria Patricia Cervantes-Poco, Leo Angelo Anonuevo, Takahiro Kenjie Aman and Muhammad Muktadir Estrella.
PAHRA claimed it had been branded as a communist/terrorist organization by government agencies and state media with some of its members linked to the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New Peoples’ Army (NPA).
In 2018, the government had asked a Manila court to declare the CPP-NPA as a terrorist organization under the Human Security Act of 2007, the law which the new Anti-Terrorism Act replaced.
The lawyers meanwhile asserted the vagueness of the provisions could mean that their work of rendering social or legal services to those accused of various crimes including terrorism could be construed as providing “material support” to terrorists, punished under section 12 of the law.
Named as respondents were the members of the Anti-Terrorism Council, the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the heads of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police.
Petitioners warned of the legal effects of being designated as a terrorist under the new law – the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) could authorize arrest without a judicial warrant and detention for up to 24 days without charge as well as issue a freeze order on suspects’ bank accounts through the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC).
These functions of the ATC under sections 25, 29 and 36, according to the petition, encroach on the judiciary’s power to designate terrorists and also constitute undue delegation of legislative powers because no clear standards were set for the ATC on how to determine who can be designated as terrorists. Instead, the ATC can even automatically adopt the United Nations Security Council Consolidated List.
Petitioners pointed out that under the Constitution, only the judges can personally determine probable cause to issue a search or arrest warrant, not a body composed purely of members from the Executive and solely on the basis of suspicion.
The 24-day period of detention without charge, they said, is longer than the 3-day limit under the Constitution and beyond the 48-hour period which the United Nation Human Rights Council considers sufficient to bring a suspect to a judicial hearing, part of the country’s treaty obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
They also objected to violations of the right against unreasonable search and seizure, right to due process and the provision regulating the right to travel within a city or municipality even if the accused is out on bail.
This petition is now the 28th filed against the Anti-Terrorism Act.
The Supreme Court had previously consolidated at least 25 petitions it has received so far and has set oral arguments on the petitions in the third week of September.
At least 2 more groups are expected to file new petitions on Wednesday and Monday next week.