Philippine anti-terrorism law

IBP files 34th petition: Hard to defend suspects under vague anti-terror law

Lian Buan

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IBP files 34th petition: Hard to defend suspects under vague anti-terror law

HIGH COURT. The Supreme Court of the Philippines on June 19, 2018.

File photo by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

In a strongly worded petition, the national body of all Philippine lawyers says slain activists Randall Echanis and Zara Alvarez could have very well been prosecuted under the vague anti-terror law

The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), the national body of all Filipino lawyers, filed the 34th petition against the anti-terror law, saying that its members would have a difficult time defending suspects charged under a vague statute.

“If the criminal acts are actually determined by respondent anti-terrorism council, and not by the law itself, in no way can petitioner IBP adequately inform accused of the nature of the charges against them, much less defend the rights of the accused during trial,” said the IBP in a 65-page petition filed before the Supreme Court on Friday, September 11.

IBP was actually tasked under Section 30 of the anti-terror law to be the first to respond to arrests and detentions. This is a shared task with the Public Attorneys’ Office (PAO).

But the IBP said its member-lawyers were “gravely prejudiced” because they would be defending suspects against a law that was “too subjective even for lawyers.”

“Counsels who will appear to question the arrests, detention and prosecution of alleged violators of the anti-terrorism act are gravely prejudiced by the fact that the vagueness of the law prevents them from doing so even to the best of their ability because the terms employed are too subjective even for lawyers,” said the petition signed by the IBP’s legal counsel in this case, former solicitor general Jose Cadiz.

The anti-terror law took effect on July 19, but the Justice and Defense Secretaries of the Philippines have committed that unless there was a big security threat, law enforcement agents would wait for the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) before enforcing the law.

Petitioners have argued that they could challenge the constitutionality of the law even before there is actual implementation.

Subjective law

Section 4 of the law has greatly expanded the definition of terror such that acts that “seriously destabilize or destroy fundamental, political, economic or social structures of the country,” among other definitions. It has also made inciting to terrorism a crime. (READ: EXPLAINER: Comparing dangers in old law and anti-terror bill)

Under this vague law, the IBP said slain activists Randall Echanis and Zara Alvarez could have very well been prosecuted before their deaths.

The Duterte government actually wanted Echanis and Alvarez to be declared terrorists under the old Human Security Act, the law replaced by the new anti-terror law.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) eventually withdrew the more than 600 names on its terror list, such that only 2 names were left in the still pending case before a Manila court. The 2 names were of Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founding chairman Jose Maria Sison and alleged Mindanao Commission Secretary Antonio Cabanatan.

“Applying also the definitions in Section 4, there is nothing in the law that prevents the activities of Echanis and Alvarez, prior to their deaths, from falling into the definition of terrorism as what had actually happened in 2019 when the more comprehensible definition of terrorism under the Human Security Act of 2007 was still in place,” said the IBP.

Under the old Human Security Act, an act of terror is simply a common crime that “sows and creates a condition of widespread and extraordinary fear among the populace in order to coerce government to give in to an unlawful demand.”

Under the old law, common crimes were specified, like kidnapping and murder.

The anti-terror law provided for penalties for law enforcement agents who would violate some rules, such as informing the judge of an arrest and detention.

“It is respectfully submitted, however, that these prohibitions and penalties provided for by law against law enforcers and military personnel for malicious, unauthorized abusive acts cannot salvage the unconstitutionality of the law,” said the IBP.

The IBP asked the Supreme Court to void the entire law, and issue as soon as possible a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO). (READ: Pressure on SC: Save democracy ‘in 11th hour,’ issue TRO vs Anti-Terror Law)

The Supreme Court earlier said it would hold oral arguments by end of September, but it has yet to give a final schedule. There is a pending request by Solicitor General Jose Calida to cancel the oral arguments to comply with quarantine rules. –

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Lian Buan

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