Supreme Court declares some provisions of Anti-Terror Law unconstitutional

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 09 2021 11:54 AM | Updated as of Dec 09 2021 05:35 PM

FILE. Protesters hold a rally in UP Diliman on July 4, 2020 in condemnation of the Anti-Terror Law. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
FILE. Protesters hold a rally in UP Diliman on July 4, 2020 in condemnation of the Anti-Terror Law. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA (2nd UPDATE) - The Supreme Court on Thursday said some provisions of the anti-terror law are unconstitutional, citing these could violate freedom of expression, among others. 

In a media advisory, the high court said the qualifier to the proviso in Section 4 of Republic Act 11479 i.e. "which are not intended to cause death or serious physical harm to a person, to endanger a person's life, or to create a serious risk to public safety", by a vote of 12-3, is declared as unconstitutional for being overboard and violative of freedom of expression.

It also said that the second method for designation in Section 25 paragraph 2 of the law, i.e. "Request for designations by other jurisdictions or supranational jurisdictions may be adopted by the AT after determination that the proposed designee meets the criteria for designation of UNSCR No. 1373", is declared unconstitutional by a vote of 9-6.

The high court said all the other challenged provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 are not unconstitutional.

It advised the public to "await the publication, and read the decision and the separate opinions for the explanation of the votes."

The SC en banc deliberated and voted on the case last Tuesday.

Thirty-seven petitions were submitted challenging the law at the SC, with oral arguments starting in February after supposed delays brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, and concluding in May. 

 Fight not over for terror law oppositors, who call SC decision a 'partial victory'

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) Secretary General Renato Reyes, a vocal critic of the law, deemed the SC decision as a "partial victory" for those opposing the measure.

"Our main win from the SC ruling on the terror law is that activism is not terrorism. This is a partial victory for petitioners as protests and advocacy are not acts of terror," he said in a tweet. 

"But the dangerous provisions of the terror law remain and can still be abused. Other dangerous provisions on designations, proscription, warrantless arrests and pronlonged detention remain and must be challenged," he added.

He said their group will file a motion for reconsideration once they have studied its ruling.

The Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) also welcomed the high court striking down the two provisions of the law, but reserved further comment on the court's decision on other parts that we questioned.

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Senatorial aspirant and anti-terror law petitioner Neri Colmenares said he plans to challenge the court’s declaration that almost all the other provisions of the law are not unconstitutional. 

"We believe that it should still strike down other provisions that allow authorities to detain people for up to 24 days without charges, allows the (Anti-Terrorism Council) to designate terrorists at will and freeze their assets, allows authorities to detain persons already out on bail incommunicado in the guise of house arrest, and other draconian provisions," he said.

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Several party-list groups also hit the SC's verdict on the constitutionality of the law.

Akbayan called the decision a "devastating blow to human rights,," saying that the law is still largely a threat to human rights and political and civil liberties.

"You don't defeat terrorism by terrorizing the people and stifling their rights. The answer to non-state terrorism is not state terrorism," said the party's first nominee Percival Cendaña.

Gabriela party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas said she remains afraid that the law might be used against the Duterte administration's political opponents.

"We are afraid that this law might be used against progressive groups and the opposition this coming 2022 elections," she said. 

The possible impact of the SC's decision on the anti-terror law to next year's national elections was earlier brought up by Colmenares, as he noted that RA 11479 removed the provision in the Human Security Act of 2007 (which it repealed) suspending the terror law one month before and two months after an election.

"The purpose in the old law is this: There's an outgoing president and the outgoing president should not have the power to use the terror law against the opposition," Colmenares told ANC's Headstart on Wednesday.

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said he is disappointed with the SC declaring most of RA 11479 constitutional.

"While a motion for reconsideration remains an option, the key in thwarting the draconian plans of those in power is a vigilant and united people. An attack on one is an attack to all," the lawmaker said in a statement. 

In a statement, the Kabataan Party-list reiterated its calls for the junking of the entire law.

"Hindi sapat ang panaka-nakang aksyon ng Korte Suprema... Dapat ibasura sa kabuuan ang pinakamalupit na batas sa kasaysayan ng bansa – ang Terror Law ni Duterte."

ACT Teachers party-list Reprsentative France Castro echoed the same sentiments.

"The entire Anti-Terrorism Act as a whole should be struck down as unconstitutional. We welcome in part the decision since it pared down somewhat the overbroad definition of terrorism by declaring unconstitutional the portion of the law which equates activism and standing up for one's rights with terrorism."

"It is also good that the ATC's designation upon request of supranational entities is also declared unconstitutional."

"However, much of what is left in the law is still abhorrent to the Constitution and dangerous to the rights of the people," she said.

Albay Rep. also lamented that the SC decision fails to fully uphold and protect due process, human rights, and fundamental freedoms.

"While the nullity of the killer proviso under Section 4 of the ATA and the method for designation in Section 25, Paragraph 2 of the ATA, is welcome, the entire law should have been voided," he said.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros, who voted "No" to the measure when it was being deliberated in the Senate, said that as she has yet to read the full decision of the SC, she is reminding the implementers of the law: "The Anti-Terror Law does not give you the license to suppress dissent and trample on fundamental rights. It is not an excuse to oppress and kill ordinary Filipinos."

She said "the Senate can and will use its oversight functions to protect Filipinos from state-sanctioned abuses and misdeeds."

Vice President Leni Robredo said she remains hopeful that questions on other contentious provisions of the law will be substantially resolved in the high court's full decision. 

"We remain steadfast in our position: Any Anti-Terrorism legislation must truly address the root causes of terrorism, and should not be used as a pretext to stifle freedom of expression or legitimate dissent."

Gov't officials say to respect SC decision

Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año said he respects the decision of the tribunal.

"First of all, we respect the decision of the Supreme Court. However, the entirety of the ATA law is constitutional except for the two items as cited by the SC."

"The declared unconstitutional provisions are minimal and it won’t affect at all the ATA 2020. We ll make appropriate adjustment but we strictly implement Anti-Terrorism Law strictly in order to protect the people against all acts of terrorism," he said.

National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, Jr., who sits as the vice chairman of the Anti-Terrorism Council, welcomed the high court's decision, but said he would make more comments once he has received a full copy of the decision.

"I'm happy that it is out. Hindi naman dineclare yung law na unconstitutional but some, two portions, which is okay. But we're waiting."

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said he will ask his legal team to study the SC's decision first. 

President Rodrigo Duterte signed RA 11479 in July last year despite heavy opposition. The law repealed the Human Security Act of 2007, passed during the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

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