MANILA, Philippines – Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque on Monday, July 6, downplayed fears the Anti-Terror Law could be used to stifle dissent and crack down on Filipinos’ basic freedoms.
During a press briefing, Roque said while the law had enough safeguards to prevent abuse, individuals can also avail of legal remedies such as writs if they believe they are unduly affected by the Anti-Terror Law.
“Terrorists, beware of the Anti-Terror Law, pero iyong mga hindi naman po mga terorista, huwag po kayong mag-alala. Sapat-sapat po ang mga safeguards sa batas mismo at sa ating umiiral na rules of court para pangalagaan po ang karapatan ng kalayaan at karapatang mabuhay,” he added. (READ: ‘Kung tahimik ka, huwag mabahala,’ says Esperon after anti-terror law signing)
(Terrorists, beware of the Anti-Terror Law, but those who are not terrorists, don’t worry. There are enough safeguards in the law and our rules of court will work to protect your right to freedom and right to life.)
Roque referred to the writ of habeas corpus which persons can obtain if they believe they were wrongly pre-detained, or a writ of amparo if they felt like they were unjustly threatened.
This is the sort of abuse, however, that critics of the law most fear as the powerful Anti-Terror Council will have the authority to initiate actions against more people, not just suspected terrorists or terrorists, and arrest them even without warrants.
The law also allows a suspected terrorist to be detained for up to 24 days – much longer than the 3-day limit in the old anti-terrorism law. The government can also conduct surveillance of a suspected terrorist for up to 60 days, instead of the previous 30. (READ: EXPLAINER: Comparing dangers in old law and anti-terror bill)
‘Criticism not a crime’
Roque also further dismissed notions the law may be used against critics who are vocal against the administration’s policies due to the law’s dangerous and vague definition of terrorism.
“No, it is not. It’s expressly provided in the law that it is not,” Roque said when asked if criticism would be criminalized under the measure.
Defenders of the measure say space for criticism is assured under the new law as the definition of terrorism excludes “advocacy, protest, dissent, stoppage of work, industrial or mass action, and other similar exercises of civil and political rights.”
Legal experts, however, have repeatedly pointed out a “killer” caveat in the law which says dissent or protest won’t be punished as terrorism so long as it is “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.”
Former Supreme Court spokesperson Ted Te, a professor of criminal law, said that the person invoking the exception, in this case the dissenter, has the burden to prove that he falls under the exception.
The first Monday after President Rodrigo Duterte signed the measure into law on Friday, July 3, three groups have filed petitions at the Supreme Court challenging the highly divisive bill.
By Rappler’s count, there are at least 8 groups that will be filing petitions, though some of them have opted to wait until the law takes effect 15 days after publication. – Rappler.com