MANILA— A group of NGOs and people’s organizations on Friday filed the 35th petition against the Anti-Terrorism Act, claiming the new law hinders their development and humanitarian work.
The group led by the Coordinating Council for People’s Development and Governance Inc. (CCPDG) and its member organizations sought to declare Republic Act 11479 void and urged the Supreme Court to issue a temporary restraining order to prevent its implementation.
CCPDG cited the experience of its member-organizations and individuals of allegedly being red-tagged, harassed and intimidated supposedly by state agents even before the new law took effect, which it fears will only worsen with the latest anti-terror measure.
Among CCPDG’s member-organizations and co-petitioners who have been red-tagged as communist fronts are IBON Foundation, Climate Change Network of Community-based Initiative, Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment and the Center for Environmental Concerns.
The other petitioners are agricultural, consumer and children’s rights groups.
“Attacks on civil society have grown in scale and scope spanning vilification, harassment, arrests on fabricated charges, and physical attacks including brazen killings. There was no let-up during the pandemic and even humanitarian relief groups responding to the COVID-19 crisis were accosted and detained. With RA 11479 in effect, the CPDG expects more violations of human rights taking place with warrantless arrests and crackdown on activists and red-tagged groups,” it said.
“The CPDG and its co-petitioners believe that the Anti-Terrorism Act will seriously hinder its members from continuing their development work for it will legitimize all the harassments many of its members are experiencing now including red-tagging, abduction as well as incarceration on trumped-up charges, and even extra-judicial killings (EJK),” it added.
Of particular concern to petitioners are the vague definitions of terrorism and other terrorism-related offenses, especially provisions penalizing providing material support to “terrorists.”
The “overly permissive and broad” definition of terrorism, they said, can mean it can be interpreted by law enforcers and the Anti-Terrorism Council to refer to any act, including speech, and the uncertainty, could lead to “massive labelling, name calling and pinpointing of anybody” without substantial basis and due process.
They said this would have serious effects on their ability to deliver aid, projects, programs and infrastructure development in far-flung communities because these acts might be tagged as “support for terrorists,” punished under section 12 of the law.
Among the most vulnerable, according to petitioners, are environmental advocates, with Kalikasan PNE recording 46 cases of alleged extrajudicial killings of environmental workers in 2019 alone.
The petitioners also invoked other grounds such as violation of due process and other basic constitutional rights as well as separation of powers since an all-executive body will take on functions reserved to the Judiciary.
Named as respondents in the petition were President Rodrigo Duterte, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea as head of the Anti-Terrorism Council, Senate President Vicente Sotto III and House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano.
The petition is the 35th challenge against the controversial measure although it is the 33rd on the list of petitions officially received by the Supreme Court as of Friday, September 18.
SC had said it would hold oral arguments but had not announced any definite date.