MANILA — The Philippines' highest court has upheld most of President Rodrigo Duterte's controversial anti-terrorism law, which critics Thursday say threatened human rights.
The law, which took effect last year, gives the country's security forces sweeping powers to go after suspected terrorists, but opponents say it is being used to stifle dissent and target government critics.
Lawyers, journalists, and rights groups petitioned the Supreme Court to remove sections of the law they argued were unconstitutional.
In a brief statement Thursday, the court said the full bench had voted in favor of declaring 2 parts of the law unconstitutional.
The petitioners said one was a provision they had dubbed a "killer caveat", which they had argued was so vague that a protest or strike could be declared an act of terrorism.
But environmental activist network Kalikasan said the court upheld "the draconian powers of the Anti-Terrorism Council that arrests, harasses, and murders with zero regard of your legal standing."
The anti-terrorism council, comprised of members of Duterte's cabinet, can order the warrantless arrest of anyone they deem a terrorist.
Suspects can be detained for up to 24 days without charge.
The government has argued the law is needed to combat terrorism in the country's south, where communist and Islamist groups have waged long-running insurgencies.
Here is a rundown of how some presidential contenders reacted to the development.
PING: PEACE WINS
Sen. Panfilo Lacson thanked the Supreme Court on Twitter, saying, “Anti Terrorism Law: Peace versus Terror. Peace wins!"
A former national police chief, Lacson said the court decision did not put credence on the claims of petitioners that the anti-terrorism council would act like a court.
He said the decision also gave more independence on how one may be considered a terrorist group. He noted the Supreme Court removed the provision in which the Philippines would designate a group as terrorist if it is declared so by the European Union or the United Nations.
"Nakabuti pa rin 'yon kasi parang nakita ng Korte Suprema na, 'Teka muna, independent country tayo, may sarili tayong pananaw, dapat igalang natin yung sarili nating proseso,'" Lacson told reporters.
(That's even better because it's as if the Supreme Court saw, 'Wait, we are an independent country, we have our own view, we should respect our own process.)
Lacson also said reactions by different sectors on the issue would be telling.
”Malalaman natin sa mga reaction kung sino malungkot, kung sino masaya, kung sino galit, para malaman natin kung ano talaga yung nanalo," he said.
"Kami masaya, ako bilang principal author masaya doon sa desisyon ng korte suprema.... Ang ayaw nito siguro yung naghahangad na mamayagpag yung terorismo sa ating bansa."
(We will know from the reactions who is sad, who is happy, who is furious. We will know who won. We, I am happy with the decision of the Supreme Court, as the law's principal author. Those who dislike this might be those who want terrorism to reign in our country.)
His runningmate, Senate President Vicente Sotto III, a primary author of the measure said of the decision, "Dagdag lang (just to add), hail, hail Supreme Court! And beware the terrorist!"
LENI SAYS LAW MUST NOT STIFLE RIGHTS
Vice President Leni Robredo said she was "hopeful" that the rest of concerns on the law would "be substantially resolved in the 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," she said in a statement.
Robredo last year questioned why had to be passed in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis. She added that the measure contained provisions that made it susceptible to abuse.
LEODY SAYS WHOLE LAW SHOULD'VE BEEN SCRAPPED
Labor leader Leody De Guzman said it was "disappointing" that the whole law was not scrapped.
"Isasapeligro nito ang mga aktibista’t unyonista, hindi lang para tumahimik ang mga kritiko ng gobyerno kundi upang manaig ang interes ng mga nang-aapi sa taumbayan," he said in a statement.
(This will endanger activists and unionists, not just to shut critics of government, but to let the interests of those who oppress the people triumph.)
— With reports from Agence France-Presse; Zandro Ochona, ABS-CBN News