July 5, 2020 (1:13 PM)

7 min read

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#DITAYOPASISIIL. Lawyers and civic groups vocalize their opposition to Pres. Rodrigo Duterte’s newly signed Anti-Terrorism Bill of 2020 through petitions against the said legislation. Photo taken from CNN Philippines

Citing some sections of the Anti-Terrorism Act as null and unconstitutional, a group of lawyers led by Atty. Howard Calleja, Bro. Armin Luistro, FSC of De La Salle Brothers, Inc. and civic groups filed a petition through electronic filing aiming to prevent its effectivity, a day after Pres. Rodrigo Duterte signed the bill into law. 

“While threats to our national security need to be addressed, the law as crafted, is oppressive and inconsistent with our constitution, hence, the petition. This fight against terrorism should not and should never be a threat to the fundamental freedoms of all peaceful Filipinos,” Calleja law firm posted in their Facebook account.

The petitioners will proceed to the Supreme Court on Monday for the physical filing of their petition.

The National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) and retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio are also set to legally challenge the new law. 

Last June 17, Carpio expressed his willingness to join a petition in questioning the constitutionality of the Anti-Terror Law. 

As reported by Rappler, the retired senior associate justice said that the Anti-Terror Law could be challenged right away before the Supreme Court without having to wait for direct injury to happen, emphasizing that the law’s threats to freedom of speech makes it open to a facial challenge.

“If we do not want to experience a contraction of our civil liberties, we must all work to have the objectionable provisions in the Anti-Terrorism Act invalidated by the Supreme Court or repealed by Congress,” he said.

Although the NUPL postponed its plan to file a petition, the union assured that it is under the grounds of including more petitioners, reinforcing “remaining procedural requisites,” and adding compelling substantive issues.

Terrorizing democracy, silencing dissent — critics

Critics immediately expressed their opposition to the Anti-Terrorism Act through social media, emphasizing on the possible implications of the law. 

Human rights lawyer Chel Diokno urged the public to continue clamouring for solons to amend or even repeal the crafted law.

“Duterte’s Anti-Terror Law will terrorize our democracy, not the terrorists. Patuloy natin igiit sa mga mambabatas na i-amend o repeal nila ito. Bantayan natin ang laban pag dinala natin yan sa korte. At wag natin hahayaang lalo pang masira ang ating demokrasya.

“No law will ever cow us into submission. At kung gaano kalupit ang batas, ganoon din katindi ang ganti ng taumbayan. Sa kahit sinong mananakop o diktador man, ito ang paulit-ulit na pinatunayan – at paulit-ulit na patutunayan – ng mga Pilipino: #DiTayoPasisiil!” ” Diokno said in his Twitter post.

Voting against the Anti-Terrorism Bill, Sen. Risa Hontiveros and Sen. Francis Pangilinan both reasoned that the ATB was unconstitutional, oppressive, and unnecessary given that the country is under a pandemic. 

Hontiveros said that despite the alarming number of COVID-19 cases in the country, as well as Filipinos who lost their jobs, the administration has instead passed a law that will be used to trample on citizens’ basic rights and freedoms.

“This [Anti-Terror] law, with its vague and unconstitutional provisions, will provide [the] government with fearsome legal tools to oppress and silence those who speak out and resist the injustices, the violence and the corruption of those in power,” posted Hontiveros in her Twitter account.

Calling the law ‘useless’, Pangilinan stated that together with the opposition, they are ready to challenge and question RA 11479 in the Supreme Court on the grounds of constitutionality.

“Hindi tinutugunan ng Anti-terror law ang problema ng sakit at gutom dulot ng pandemya ngunit sapilitang itong isinusubo sa taumbayan. Basura ang pilit na isinusubo sa taumbayan,” Pangilinan asserted.

Pangilinan shared that he was not surprised that the bill will be signed into law as he slammed the administration for “unleashing draconian and authoritarian measures as a showcase of its brand of leadership.”

National Union of Journalists of the Philippines Chair Nonoy Espina, highlighted the importance of asserting rights and freely expressing dissent.

“People should continue to assert their constitutional rights, particularly freedom of expression, and make known their sentiments. Silence or giving in to fear is the best assurance that we will lose our rights and freedoms,” Espina said.

Social Science Representative Karlo Torreon and Ateneo Debate Varsity President Brian Unabia shared the same sentiments as the act being an avenue to legitimize repression of dissent.

“I still believe that this piece of legislation is a poorly-disguised mechanism to give the state more power and legitimacy to crack down on valid form of dissent. Although the right to dissent may be protected in paper, one should consider the current political climate of this country,” Unabia said.

Torreon emphasized that the new act will “exacerbate the human-rights situation in our country” considering the “administration’s lack of transparency in state affairs.”

Defense of the Anti-Terror Law

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque confirmed the passage of the bill to now Republic Act No. 11479, or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, a day after he declared that the Palace’s legal team was nearly done reviewing the bill who “took time to study this piece of legislation weighing the concerns of different stakeholders.”

“The signing of the aforesaid law demonstrates our serious commitment to stamp out terrorism, which has long plagued the country and has caused unimaginable grief and horror to many of our people,” Roque said.

Senator Panfilo Lacson, one of the authors of the measure, in a statement, lauded Duterte for signing the bill albeit “all the pressure coming from different directions.”

“Rest assured that I will exert extra effort in guarding against possible abuse in its implementation, notwithstanding all the safeguards incorporated in this landmark legislation,” Lacson said.

Last minute calls

Earlier this week, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet asked Duterte not to sign the bill, emphasizing their concern about the “blurring of important distinctions between criticism, criminality, and terrorism.”

During the 44th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Bachelet suggested coming up with measures having safeguards against possible abuse.

“I would urge the President to refrain from signing the [Anti-Terrorism] law and to initiate a broad-based consultation process to craft legislation that would effectively prevent and counter violent extremism but which contains some safeguards to prevent its misuse against people engaged in peaceful criticism and advocacy,” she said. 

A day before the declaration of the chief executive’s signing of the bill, Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) Parliament passed a resolution urging Duterte to veto the bill.

BTA Interim Chief Minister Ahod Ebrahim expressed his fear that the Bangsamoro people would “easily [be] labelled as terrorists” that would lead to more discrimination and abuse.

“As the leader of a political entity born out of the struggle against injustice and oppression, it is my moral duty to speak out in order to ensure the measures intended to address terrorism will not be used as a means to subvert the fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals, in general, and normalize abuse and discrimination against the Bangsamoro, in particular.” Ebrahim said.

The group led by Calleja and Luistro has yet to release the full copy of their petition. However, they made it clear that they are calling for the declarations of sections 3, 4, 5, 9, 10, 16, 17, 25, 26, 29 and 54, of the Anti-Terrorism Law ( RA 11479) as null and void.



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