'Repression in broad daylight': SC urged to issue TRO vs anti-terror law

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 25 2020 12:13 PM

Lawyers Erin Tañada, Chel Diokno, and Quezon City 6th district Rep. Kit Belmonte pose for photos outside the Supreme Court before filing a petition against the Anti Terrorism Law on July 23, 2020. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA – A group of senators, media practitioners and lawyers who filed a petition against the Anti-Terrorism Act has urged the Supreme Court to act on their plea for a temporary restraining order (TRO) to stop the implementation of the new law.
 
Citing new developments following the filing of their petition on July 23, Senators Francis Pangilinan and Leila de Lima, journalists led by Ma. Ceres Doyo and Maria Ressa, and lawyers led by Chel Diokno, filed a motion to resolve the application for TRO on Monday afternoon through their lawyers from the Free Legal Assistance Group.
 
“In this eleventh hour, this Court stands as the last and only vanguard of our fragile democracy. And unless it enjoins the enforcement and implementation of the ATA, the foremost freedoms of the Bill of Rights – freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and the freedom peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances – bedrock rights that give life to all other rights will be irrevocably and irreversibly chilled and mangled beyond recognition,” they said.
 
This is the same group joined by Constitution framers Florangel Rosario-Braid and Edmundo Garcia, former Commission on Human Rights chair Etta Rosales and former lawmakers.

In particular, the petitioners quoted statements made by new Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief Gilbert Gapay on August 4 vowing to implement Executive Order No. 70, which created the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, and the anti-terror law and his intention to “regulate the use of social media” in implementing the law.
 
“The casual conflation of ‘radicalizaton’ with ‘terrorism’ by a ranking enforcer of the law does not portend a measured, tolerant, and even-handed implementation of a dangerously vague law,” the group said, going on to cite Gapay’s statement that he does not intend to curtail freedom of expression of the users but “to regulate the platforms on the contents they allow to be uploaded.”
 
“This is prior restraint, undisguised by spin and unimpeded by the rule of law. It is repression in broad daylight,” the petitioners said, adding that Gapay’s remarks show how the vagueness and broadness of the law make it susceptible to being used for an unconstitutional end.
 
Arguing that content-based restrictions on freedoms of speech, expression, of the press and to peaceably assemble are presumptively unconstitutional, they said the government’s intention to regulate speech on social media highlights the “chilling effect” the anti-terrorism measure creates.
 
“In choosing between incurring a life sentence for posting a 140-character tweet, on one hand, and silence, on the other, the choice to all but the bravest is painfully obvious,” they said, claiming the Anti-Terrorism Act is forcing citizens to “self-censor.”
 
The Office of the Solicitor General has opposed the application for TRO, saying the petitioners do not possess a clear and unmistakable right which will be violated by the Anti-Terrorism Act and have failed to prove they will sustain grave and irreparable injury from the implementation of the new law. 
 
It added, issuing a TRO would prejudge the case.
 
But the petitioners insisted they have legal standing to challenge the law, with actual and existing substantial rights that will be violated – as media practitioners who cover alleged state-sponsored mass murder, as a human rights lawyer charged last year with inciting to sedition, as opposition senators who refuse to tow the administration’s line and as citizens who choose their civic duty over silence and complicity.
 
Twenty-nine petitions have so far been filed contesting the validity of the Anti-Terrorism Act.
 
The Supreme Court initially set oral arguments on the petition on the 3rd week of September “at the earliest.”

But the OSG on Monday moved to cancel the oral arguments citing concerns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

Former Solicitor General Estelito Mendoza said the petitions should be dismissed due to lack of an actual case or controversy since no petitioners have alleged injury arising from the new law.