Palace will bow to SC on terror law
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana called on critics and the public in general to give the new anti-terror law a chance.
Presidential Photo

Palace will bow to SC on terror law

Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - July 6, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang has promised to abide by any ruling of the Supreme Court on challenges to the controversial Anti-Terrorism Act, which critics fear will violate human rights and stifle free expression.

“We will leave it to the Supreme Court to decide on the petition and we will abide by the court’s decision,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in a text message yesterday when asked to comment on the petition questioning the legality of the measure.
“(We) will allow (the) court to decide. (I) can’t comment because of sub judice rule.”

President Duterte signed the Anti-Terrorism Act on Friday, a move that Malacañang said demonstrated the administration’s “serious commitment” to stamp out terrorism.

“The signing by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte of Republic Act No. 11479, otherwise known as the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, heralds a new dawn in the country’s fight against the ruthless global crime against humanity: terrorism,” Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said in a statement issued yesterday.

“Despite the cacophony of dissenting voices from a virulent and noisy minority, the President in another display of political will inked his signature on the (law) to advance and protect the interests of the Filipino nation against what may be deemed to be the highest form of criminality,” he added.

Panelo said the law would provide the government the “legal weapon to ensnare the terrorists at their trail even before they can launch their ruthless and savage attacks and to preserve national security.”

The day after the law was signed, a group of lawyers and civic leaders challenged its legality before the Supreme Court (SC), calling RA 11479 “oppressive” and “inconsistent” with the Constitution.

The petitioners asked the high court to declare as null and void provisions defining terms; enumerating acts of terrorism; punishing persons who threaten to commit acts of terrorism, incite others to commit terrorism through speeches, writings, proclamations, banners or other representations and recruit people to join terrorist groups; and allowing the police and military to secretly wiretap, read, record, or collect private commmunication, data or messages between members of terrorist organizations or persons charged with committing crimes defined in the law.

They also challenged the legality of provisions on the requisites for the appellate court’s issuance of a written order to conduct surveillance activities; designation of individuals and groups as terrorists and terrorism financers; proscription of terrorist organizations; and pre-trial detention of suspected terrorists; and the provision mandating the justice department and the Anti-Terrorism Council to promulgate the implementing rules and regulations of the law.

The petitioners include law professor Howard Calleja, lawyers Joseph Peter Calleja, University of the Philippines law professor Christopher John Lao, Reynaldo Echavez, Napoleon Siongco, Raeyan Reposar, Bro. Armin Luistro of the De La Salle Brothers and civic groups Tunay na Bayani and Bagong Siklab Pilipinas.

Other groups have also announced plans to ask the SC to invalidate the law.

The justice department has described the filing of the petition as a “positive development,” saying it provides all parties the appropriate forum for the resolution of the issues surrounding the law.

Officials have expressed support for the signing of the measure, saying it is necessary to combat the security threats hounding the country.

“As the Philippines is heavily afflicted by terrorism, as reflected in its ranking in the Global Terrorism Index of 2019, the Duterte administration stands with a firm position of undertaking stricter measures against terrorists, including foreign ones, while maintaining the respect for human rights as we have ensured safeguards against abuse,” Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said in a statement.

‘Give new law a chance’

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana called on critics and the public in general to give the new anti-terror law a chance.

“We appeal to the public to give this law a chance and not to be swayed by misinformation and disinformation. We urge everyone to read and understand the law,” he said in a statement.

He noted that such law is “a much-needed measure to clothe law enforcement agencies with the necessary power to contain and eradicate terrorists who don’t play by any rules and hide behind our laws to pursue their evil deeds.”

Despite continuing criticisms from various sectors, he said the government would ensure that the Anti-Terror Law would not be abused by law enforcement agencies.

“We will strictly implement this law according to its intent and spirit,” Lorenzana said.

Critics are particularly questioning how the law allows warrantless arrests and prolonged detention of suspected terrorists.

Lorenzana was among security officials who had earlier pointed out that the new law has enough safeguards to ensure protection of human rights.

Terrorist supporters

National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon said he suspects critics of the new measure are supporters of terrorists.

In an interview on dzBB, Esperon denied that the law would imperil human rights.

He noted that there are provisions in the law that would act as safeguards to ensure that human rights are protected and that abuses by state forces will not be tolerated.

He added that critics “are either mindful that freedoms of their ‘allies’ will be diminished or that they just did not read the provisions of the law.”

He reminded them of various terror acts in the country such as the Marawi siege and the Jolo Cathedral bombing, the first case in the country having a Filipino suicide bomber.

Esperon reiterated that activism is not terrorism, citing Section 4 of the newly enacted RA 11479 that says “terrorism shall not include advocacy, protest, dissent, stoppage of work, industrial or mass action and other similar exercises of civil and political rights.”

He said they will seek the guidance of lawmakers and other organizations in the crafting of the implementing rules and regulations of the new law.

Group welcomes signing

Meanwhile, a coalition of 48 organizations welcomed the signing of the anti-terror law, saying that “the legislative measure would free people from the claws of global terrorism.”

“With the passage of the law, Filipinos will now have freedom against all sorts of tyranny, oppression, violence, killings of innocents and armed insurgency brought by communist groups, Islamic extremists and other rebel organizations in the country,” the Liga Independencia Pilipinas (LIPI) said.

LIPI secretary general Jose Antonio Goitia stressed that before criticizing the Anti-Terror Act, people should read it thoroughly so they could fully understand it.

“There are plenty of misconceptions and misinterpretations going around in social media platforms. (But) it is clearly stated in the 1987 Constitution under the Bill of Rights that the Anti-Terrorism Council has mechanisms in place for potential human rights violations,” Goitia said.

“The Anti-Terror Act is a good law – one that is swift, effective and most importantly, constitutional,” he added.

He cited the need for government to defeat bandits like the Abu Sayyaf in Mindanao.

“The unwanted presence of Abu Sayyaf members in Metro Manila, which government troops have neutralized, has proven that terrorists groups know no pandemic nor people suffering in the country or anywhere in the world,” Goitia said.

Terrorist groups have continued attacking various parts of the country, he said, referring to a report by Armed Forces chief of staff Gen. Felimon Santos Jr.

“Civilian supremacy should always be observed and the law should still prevail, including the human rights of the majority of the people, and not these terrorists,” LIPI said.

The group thanked Duterte for signing the law. Michael Punongbayan, Romina Cabrera, Delon Porcalla

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