Philippine anti-terrorism law

Senators, journalists, Moros follow suit: Petitions vs anti-terror law now 15

Lian Buan
Senators, journalists, Moros follow suit: Petitions vs anti-terror law now 15
(UPDATED) Opposition senators Francis Pangilinan and Leila de Lima are joined in their petition by Constitution framers Florangel Braid and Ed Garcia. They are represented by the Free Legal Assistance Group.

(UPDATED) There are now as many petitions against the anti-terror law as there are justices of the Supreme Court, with the addition of 4 more petitions Thursday, July 23.

The filing of the 4 new petitions brings the current total to 15, to be deliberated on by 15 magistrates, with at least 2 more groups expected to follow in the next weeks.

Senators Francis Pangilinan and Leila de Lima, and Quezon City Representative Kit Belmonte of the opposition bloc filed their petition Thursday, with Constitution framers Florangel Braid and Ed Garcia as petitioners.

Former senators Serge Osmeña and Bobby Tañada, as well as former senatorial candidate Chel Diokno and former Quezon congressman Erin Tañada also signed as co-petitioners. Journalists like Rappler CEO Maria Ressa, Rappler Investigative Desk Head Chay Hofileña and Inquirer columnist John Nery, as well as former human rights commissioner Etta Rosales are also co-petitioners. They are all represented by the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG).

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), joined by National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera, Ces Drilon, Luis Teodoro, reporters of several news groups, and artists also filed their petition Thursday morning. Noted human rights lawyer Evalyn Ursua is their counsel.

Youth groups including student organizations from the “Big 4” universities – De La Salle University, Ateneo de Manila University, University of the Philippines-Diliman, and University of Santo Tomas – also filed their petition Thursday, represented by young lawyer Dino de Leon who had previously petitioned the Supreme Court to unseal the health records of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Bangsamoro residents also filed Thursday afternoon, saying in their petition that “no matter how noble (the) purpose, if the means to be employed in accomplishing it are irreconcilable with constitutional parameters, it cannot still be allowed.”

Muslim lawyers vs ATA
A group of Muslim lawyers file the 15th petition against the Anti-Terror Act of 2020 at the Supreme Court in Manila on July 23, 2020. Photo by Inoue Jaena/Rappler
Photo by Inoue Jaena/Rappler
‘People Power would not have been possible’

The FLAG petition, which asks for oral arguments and to declare the entire law unconstitutional, said that the anti-terror law would have made the 1987 People Power illegal because of its broad scopes.

“By calling on the people to mass up in the main thoroughfare of Metro Manila, (Jaime) Cardinal Sin would be inciting the people to engage in acts intended to cause extensive interference with or damage to critical infrastructure as defined by Section 3(a),” said the FLAG petition.

Pointing out that the anti-terror law added 7 new crimes from the 2007 Human Security Act, the FLAG petition said the new crime of inciting to terrorism which is defined as any act of terror using broad definitions “by means of speeches, proclamations, writings” violate the right to free speech. (READ: EXPLAINER: Comparing dangers in old law and anti-terror bill)

“The law expressly regulates freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and the right of the people to peaceably assemble and petition the Government for redress of grievances,” said the FLAG petition.

The NUJP petition also warned against inciting to commit terrorism, saying that under Section 9, inciting to commit terrorism is the execution of “any acts specified in Section 4 by means of speeches, proclamations, writings.”

“(It) is misleading since Section 4 does not define at all what those acts are.  Without that clarity, the crime defined in Section 9 is reduced to ‘speeches, proclamations, writings, emblems, banners or other representations’ that incite others to execute unspecified acts that authorities deem as terrorism,” said the NUJP petition.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra himself said that inciting to terrorism needs threshing out in the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR). The government’s security officials agree that it’s best to hold off enforcing the law while waiting for the IRR, unless “there is a big terror threat.”

The FLAG petition also pointed out that in the Human Security Act, terror acts are specified by using predicate crimes such as murder or kidnapping with the criteria of “sowing and creating a condition of widespread and ordinary fear.”

The anti-terror law removed the predicate crimes and instead listed these definitions, slammed as being too vague:

  • intimidating the general public
  • creating an atmosphere or spreading a message of fear
  • provoking or influencing by intimidation the government or any of its international organizations
  • seriously destabilizing or destroying the fundamental political, economic, or social structures of the country
  • creating a public emergency
  • seriously undermining public safety

The youth groups’ petition said “nowhere in the Anti-Terror Law does it provide any example or metric by which any person may reasonably calibrate the tendency of speech or speech-related conduct to create a serious risk.”

“Neither is there any definition or simple qualifier as to the definition of serious risk, nor a measurement for the intent of the person expressing such speech,” said the youth groups.

Illegal delegation of powers

The FLAG petition argued that the anti-terror law illegally delegated powers to the anti-terror council.

Number one, because Section 4 defines a terror act as a crime with intent to cause death or serious bodily harm, the FLAG petition said it allows the law enforcer to decide on his own whether the act is criminal, essentially allowing him to write the law every time he has to enforce it.

“The anti-terror law unduly delegates to the anti-terror council the legislative power to criminalize an act without any discernible standards specified in the law. It is unconstitutional and void,” said the FLAG petition.

Number two, because Section 29 allows 24-day detention periods when the Constitution only allows 3-day detention periods in a state of martial law where the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus is suspended, the FLAG petition said it even usurped the “limited” power of the president to declare military rule.

“Section 29 of the anti-terror law profoundly expands the otherwise heavily restricted commander-in-chief powers of the President, and further enables his enforcement agents to sweep unnecessarily broadly against protected speech and speech-related conduct,” said the FLAG petition.

If martial law allows 3-day detention periods, the Rules of Court only allows 1 day and a half or 36 hours before an arrested suspected is brought to court. The FLAG petition said Section 29’s 24-day detention period effectively usurped the rule-making power of the Supreme Court.

The Constitution says that “civilian authority is, at all times, supreme over the military,” but the FLAG petition said that rule has been violated when the anti-terror law allowed even military personnel to arrest and detain suspects under Section 29.

Citing the Supreme Court case IBP vs Zamora, the FLAG petition said the military’s authority to enforce the law does not fall within the “limited participation” that has been laid out in jurisprudence.

The FLAG petition said Section 29 authorized the military to arrest and detain “with as much authority and autonomy as civilian law enforcement, in clear breach of the constitutional principle of civilian supremacy.”

“This uncircumscribed mobilization of the military under Section 29 also Constitutes undue delegation to the Executive of a power that Congress does not have,” said the FLAG petition.

So far the 14 petitioner groups are:

  1. Atty Howie Calleja and group
  2. Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman
  3. Far Eastern University Institute of Law
  4. Makabayan bloc
  5. Former OGCC chief Rudolf Jurado
  6. Center for Trade Union and Human Rights
  7. Framers of the Constitution with Ateneo and Xavier lawyers 
  8. Sanlakas party list
  9. Labor groups
  10. Activists represented by NUPL
  11. Retired justices Antonio Carpio and Conchita Carpio Morales with UP Law professors
  12. Senators, framers, journalists represented by FLAG
  13. National Union of Journalists of the Philippines
  14. Youth groups represented by Dino De Leon
  15. Bangsamoro residents represented by Algamar Latiph


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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.