MANILA – A group of Catholic priests, nuns and lawyers is the latest to question the Anti-Terrorism Act before the Supreme Court, bringing the total number of petitions to 30.
Invoking their right to freedom of religious expression, the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines (AMRSP) composed of Catholic priests, nuns and laity, filed on Wednesday a petition to declare certain provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Act unconstitutional, arguing that the law interferes with the social doctrine of the Catholic Church.
“[T]he Catholic Social Teaching of the Church, to respect the dignity of the human person as the image of God, the right to equal protection and subsidiarity in the running of society, the respect for due process and individual right in front of the law, the search for the common good, and the solidarity with the socially excluded and preferential option for the poor, would be encroached on with the continued existence of the Anti-Terrorism Law of 2020,” the petition said.
The AMRSP has a long history of fighting Martial Law abuses since it was formed in the 1970s and has continued to speak out against select policies of succeeding administrations, as part of its evangelization and missionary action.
Among its duty, as with all other Catholics, is to promote social justice and give assistance to the poor which, the group said, could expose them to being branded as terrorists because of the track record of the authorities in generalizing and stereotyping which often leads to red-tagging.
They cited the experience of one of their member-priests working with indigenous peoples who had been the subject of queries by the military about his supposed ties to the New People’s Army, even before the passage of the new law.
“To stand up against oppressive mandates of the State is also the teaching of the Church. Citizens are not obligated in conscience to follow the prescriptions of civil authorities if their precepts are contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons or to the teachings of the Gospel,” they said.
The AMRSP was joined as petitioners by its lawyers Rafael Calinisan, Noel Del Prado and Adrian Vivas.
Named as respondents are the members of the Anti-Terrorism Council and the heads of the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
In their petition, the petitioners said the Anti-Terrorism Act, will only “make matters worse” as the Anti-Terrorism Council can “designate” who are terrorists and authorize their surveillance, warrantless arrest, detention for up to 24 days and freeze their assets, on the basis of mere suspicion.
Add to this, they said, are the vague and broad definitions of terrorism and related offenses under section 4 to 12 of the Anti-Terrorism Act.
“R.A. 11479 is unconstitutional, as it treacherously erased the constitutional protection against unreasonable arrests, by replacing the standard of ‘probable cause’ with the inferior, constitutionally-unacceptable and ultra vires legislation of the lower threshold of mere ‘suspicion,’” Del Prado said.
“The Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 is a dangerous ‘blank check’ for the ensuing unbridled and unchecked arrests by executive officers, and which, as Filipinos, we are now bound to pay, in the currency of devalued lives, freedom and dignity,” he added.
The petitioners said the government needs to focus now on COVID-19, “the enemy in our midst,” and not terrorism.
“Literally billions of pesos in confidential and intelligence funds are included in the budgets of the Office of the President, and other executive departments and offices. At present, the government is more than adequately equipped to address the issue of terrorism in the country. There is no need to infringe on the rights of Filipinos, and the Religious Freedom of the Church, just for convenience,” Calinisan said.
Fr. Angelito Cortez, co-executive secretary of AMRSP, said the people’s health, safety and well-being should be the utmost agenda.
“We do not need another inhumane and oppressive law. What we need are laws guided by justice, peace, and integrity of creation. Laws that seek to bring mercy and compassion to our brothers and sisters who have long been suffering from discrimination and injustices. We are servants of the Lord and His people, we are not terrorists!” Fr. Angelito Cortez, co-executive secretary of AMRSP said.
Twenty-nine other petitions have been filed against the Anti-Terrorism Act although the official total based on Supreme Court records stands at 28, with 2 petitions filed weeks ago not yet received by the Court.
SC has set the oral arguments on the 3rd week of September, at the earliest, although the Office of the Solicitor General on Monday moved to cancel the oral arguments, citing health concerns over the continuous spread of COVID-19.
The Supreme Court en banc on Tuesday took note of the OSG’s motion.