Opposition lawmakers, rights lawyers, journalists file 12th petition vs anti-terrorism law

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Opposition lawmakers, rights lawyers, journalists file 12th petition vs anti-terrorism law
Rights lawyers Chel Diokno and Erin Tañada, and Rep. Kit Belmonte (Quezon City) filed the 12th legal challenge against Republic Act 11479 or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 on Thursday, July 23.
JUCRA pool photo

MANILA, Philippines — Opposition lawmakers, Framers of the Constitution, human rights lawyers and journalists on Thursday joined the growing number of petitioners against the contentious anti-terrorism law.

Rights lawyers Chel Diokno and Erin Tañada, and Rep. Kit Belmonte (Quezon City) filed a Petition for Certiorari and asked the Supreme Court to annul the entire Republic Act 11479 or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 (ATA) for being void and unconstitutional.

The petitioners, represented by the Free Legal Assistance Group, also asked the SC to set the case for oral arguments and to issue of a temporary restraining order to enjoin the respondent-government officials from implementing the law.

The petitioners, which include Sens. Francis Pangilinan, Risa Hontiveros and Leila De Lima, said that while the ATA meant to serve the State policy to fight terrorism, it “nevertheless hands to government a sledgehammer, a blunt instrument that may easily be wielded to batter down the constitutional guardrails protecting” several freedoms enshrined in the Constitution.

“What is at stake in this case affects every Filipino citizen because it involves the individual right of every person to speak freely on matters of public concern, and the collective right of the people to peaceably assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances. These rights hang in the balance of this case,” they said.

'If it were 1986, the EDSA revolution could not have been possible'

“By its very architecture, the ATA is a weapon against constitutionally protected speech and speech-related conduct,” they said, noting that the law created a “new speech crime of Inciting to Terrorism,” tied to Section 4 of the law that is “breathtakingly vague and overbroad.”

The petitioners argued that due to the overbroad definition of terrorism in the law, it encompassed Constitutionally-protected speech and conduct.

If it were 1986, Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin, who urged the public to go to Crame and protect political leaders who withdrew support for the Marcos regime, could have easily been charged and arrested, they said.

And if a religious and civic leader echoes a similar call today, it may qualify as inciting to terrorism.

“Calling on people to gather in a public place to petition the Government for redress of grievances is protected speech,” they stressed.

Similar calls to support a call for the chief executive to step down or from him to be removed by Congress for being physically or mentally unfit—a protected right—may also be swept into definition of inciting to terrorism.

No fair warning to ordinary citizens

The petitioners also said the ATA “fails to give a person of ordinary intelligence fair notice that his or her contemplated speech is prohibited.”

They listed the following examples that may be construed as inciting to terrorism:

  • Social media user Cardo wanting to post a call to urge the people not to patronize a telecommunications, energy and transportation companies owned by a person....known to be very close to the President
  • Teacher Juliet who also wants to post on Facebook that people are going hungry and they should gather at the local gym where relief goods are stocked
  • Worker Bong, appalled by the incoherent ramblings of the president on television, composes a tweet to call the chief executive “buang” (crazy) and unfit to govern the country—and urges others to share his post

Journalists may also be driven to self-censorship so they may not be arrested as terrorists. They would have to toe the line not to write a story that may be misconstrued for intending to cause injury or endanger a person’s life or destruction to property or intimidate the public—all qualifiers of terrorist acts.

Due to the “sheer amount of guesswork, qualification, mincing and moderation,” a good number of journalists may opt to not write at all, the petitioners said.

“The ATA, therefore, is void for vagueness,” the petitioners said.









As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: June 22, 2022 - 8:18am

President Rodrigo Duterte signed the Anti-Terrorism Law on July 3 despite opposition from rights groups and civil society groups that it could be used to stifle human rights.

A petition against the law has been filed at the Supreme Court and other groups are preparing pleadings of their own.

Follow this page for updates. Photo courtesy of The STAR/Michael Varcas 

June 22, 2022 - 8:18am

National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon moves to block access to several websites, including news sites of alternative news orrganizations Bulatlat.com and Pinoyweekly.org.

In his letter to the National Telecommunications Commission, he only says the websites are "affiliated to and are supporting these terrorists and terrorist organizations."

No other basis to back up his allegation was cited in the letter.

December 12, 2021 - 1:10pm

The Commission on Human Rights says it "partly welcomes" the Supreme Court decision that some parts of the controversial Anti-terrorism Law are unconstitutional.

CHR spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia says the commission remains hopeful that the remaining contentious provisions of the law will be clarified by the high cour in the full text of the decision.

"At the same time, our commitment remains in guarding against possible human rights violations arising from the implementation of the anti-terror law. We steadfastly remind the government that countering terrorism and protecting human rights are not competing values but are, in fact, mutual and complementary," De Guia says in a statement.

December 7, 2021 - 7:10pm

The Supreme Court has deliberated and voted on the controversial Anti-Terrorism Act but the decision will be released "at the soonest time possible."

"However, considering that there were numerous issues resolved in the case, as well as the fact that each Justice had to vote on each issue, there is a need to accurately confirm and tally the vote of each Justice in order to ensure the correct resolution of the Court per issue," SC spokesperson Brian Hosaka says.

July 19, 2021 - 8:33am

The Anti-Terrorism Council designates the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, the panel that negotiates for communist rebels during peace talks a terrorist organization.

Previous designation of the Communist Party of the Philippines and New People's Army led to the designation of supposed members of the CPP's Central Committee. Among those designated as terorrists were peace consultants.

Designation gives the Anti-Terrorism Council the authority to investigate and freeze the accounts of designated persons.

May 13, 2021 - 9:06am

The Anti-Terrorism Council has designated 29 people, including alleged members of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army, as terrorists in two resolutions.

Designation allows the Anti-Money Laundering Council to freeze the assets of those on the list. 


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