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

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

Kristine Joy Patag (Philstar.com) - July 23, 2020 - 11:22am

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: May 13, 2021 - 9:06am

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 

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. 


April 27, 2021 - 2:59pm

Solicitor General Jose Calida tells the Supreme Court that the Philippines must have an Anti-Terrorism Act because of international obligations. 

Calida says "supervening events warrant ouright dismissal of petitions." He notes there are already cases involving ATA, such as case against farmers Japer Gurung and Junior Ramos, and three individuals in Negros Occidental.

He says petitioners do not have standing to question the law since they are not directly affected by it.

April 21, 2021 - 5:53pm

Oral arguments on petitions against the Anti-Terrorism Act will resume on April 27 at 2:30 p.m..

According to a Supreme Court advisory, the arguments will be carried out through videoconferencing due to the pandemic.

March 22, 2021 - 3:11pm

Oral arguments on the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 scheduled on March 23 is suspended due to the "alarming increase of COVID cases."

Supreme Court Clerk of Court Edgar Aricheta says the oral arguments will resume on April 6 at 2:30 p.m.

March 15, 2021 - 1:03pm

The oral arguments on the petitions against the controversial Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 will resume on March 23.

The Supreme Court announces that the oral arguments scheduled on March 16 is suspended.

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