In 13th petition filed, journalists and artists warn anti-terror law to further embolden red-tagging
On July 23, 2020, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, together with other media workers; members of the Concerned Artists of the Philippines, led by their chairman Neil Doloricon and chairman emeritus and National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera, artists and cultural workers filed a petition for certiorari and prohibition before the Supreme Court against Republic Act 11479, or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.
National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, Facebook release
In 13th petition filed, journalists and artists warn anti-terror law to further embolden red-tagging
Kristine Joy Patag ( - July 23, 2020 - 11:45am

MANILA, Philippines — Citing their own experience of state harassment and red-tagging, a 37-strong group of journalists and writers, led by the National Journalists of the Philippines, assailed the anti-terrorism law before the Supreme Court.

Through their legal counsel, Evalyn Ursua, the group of journalists, writers, artists and other cultural workers across the country urged the SC to strike down the entire Republic Act 11479 or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 (ATA) as void.

The petitioners urged the SC to consider this context in resolving their pleading: That, even before RA 11479 has been instituted, the State have long committed acts that violate the exercise of freedoms and expression.

They asserted that the “new law gives authorities legitimacy in further committing similar violations.”

Journalists, artists red-tagged

In making their case, the group cited the red-tagging, threats and harassment from the State they experience in line of their work.

“Even before the enactment of [ATA], officials of the National Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF ELCAC) regularly tag journalists and artists not only as supporters of ‘communists terrorists’ but as active members of the Communist Party of the Philippines or the New People’s Army,” their 31-page petition, the 13th filed against the ATA, read.

Red-tagging is defined by Philippine jurisprudence as “the act of labelling, branding, naming and accusing individuals and/or organizations of being left-leaning, subversives, communists or terrorists (used as) a strategy... by State agents, particularly law enforcement agencies and the military, against those perceived to be ‘threats’ or ‘enemies of the State.’”

The petitioners cited several statements of NTF ELCAC accusing journalists—even ABS-CBN owners, executives and employees—as part of propaganda machinery of the CPP.

The NTF ELCAC also tagged the Concerned Artists of the Philippines as “’open sectoral organizations’ of the leftist underground movement of artists,” they said.

“The Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 will further enable those violations and deprive petitioners and all Filipinos who engage in legitimate expression and dissent of the protection guaranteed under the Philippine Constitution,” they added.

Law violates freedom of speech, expression

As journalists and artists, the petitioners said they are “involved in some form of legitimate exercise of free speech and expression.” Due to the vagueness of terrorism definition under the law, an editorial cartoon may be seen as “advocacy or protest or dissent” and authorities may claim it intends to cause serious physical harm to a public official, or intimate the government.

“Section 4 thus threatens petitioners’ rights not just sporadically but continuously given the nature of their work,” they said.

They also moved that Sections 4 and 9 of the law, that define terrorism and inciting to terrorism, respectively, involve content-based restraint on speech and expression.

In the landmark Chavez vs Gonzalez case, the held government action that “restricts freedom of speech or of the press based on content is given the strictest scrutiny in light of its inherent and invasive impact.”

A content-based restraint is defined as a restriction based on “subject matter of utterance or speech.” Prior restraint, meanwhile, is government restrictions “on the press or other forms of expression in advance of actual publication or dissemination.”

Taking this into consideration, the two assailed provisions of the law cannot pass the clear and present danger test.

“While both Sections supposedly seek to stop the evil of terrorism, their scope is so sweeping that their prior restraint on free speech and expression cannot be justified,” they said.

This is the 13th petition filed challenging the constitutionality of the anti-terrorism law at the SC.

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: October 14, 2020 - 2:35pm

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 

October 14, 2020 - 2:35pm

The Anti-Terrorism Council has aproved the Implementing Rules and Regulations for the Anti-Terrorism Law, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra confirms.

The implementing guidelines were crafted by a technical working group led by the DOJ, he also says.

"We will disseminate copies to the Congress and to law enforcement agencies as required under the law, and will publish the IRR online and in a newspaper of general circulation in the next few days," he says.

August 30, 2020 - 12:47pm

Desaparecidos, an organization made up of families of victims of enforced disappearances, is worried that more may go missing under the anti-terrrorism law.

"We fear that Duterte's terror law will enable State forces to resort to extraordinary measures such as abductions and enforced disappearances like what they did to my daughter to instill fear on its critics and activists as the government spins out of control because of the pandemic and the ailing economy," Erlinda Cadapan, Desaparecidos chairperson and mother of missing University of the Philippines student Sherlyn Cadapan, says in a statement.

She says that Section 29 of the Anti-Terrorism Act allows detention without charges for up to 24 days "practically opens up the option for State forces to resort to enforce disappearance rather than complying with legal requirements to detain suspects."

August 25, 2020 - 9:30am

The Free Legal Assistance Group, which represents senators and media practitioners in a petition against the Anti-Terrorism Act, urges the Supreme Court to issue a temporart restraining order against the new law.

The group says the statement of Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Gilbert Gapay to regulate social media is "repression in broad daylight."

"At the very least, the foregoing statements of the AFP Chief of Staff confirm that the ATA is both so overbroad and vague that it is susceptible to being used for an unconstitutional end, that is a weapon against free speech and dissent," the motion read.

August 24, 2020 - 12:57pm

Solicitor General Jose Calida asks the Supreme Court to cancel the oral arguments on the petitions against the anti-terrorism law.

Calida cites logistical restrictions and health threats posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that oral arguments would entail the presence of members of the Court, at least 300 petitioners and their counsels, 16 OSG lawyers and support staff.

"Further, the sheer number of participants will make it difficult, if not impossible, to maintain social distancing within the En Banc Session Hall. In this regard alone, even puttig the matter of the age and health vulnerabilities of some of the participants aside, it is submitted that their physical presence for in-court oral arguments is inadvisable," Calida says in his urgent motion.

August 3, 2020 - 2:47pm

It is not the intention of the anti-terror bill to regulate social media, says Rep. Ruffy Biazon (Muntinlupa), co-author of the anti-terrorism bill that is now a law, on Twitter.

Biazon is reacting to a statement from the military that what it calls a "very, very good law" that is "comprehensive" be applied to social media.

The controversial Anti-Terrorism Law is now being challenged by more than a dozen petitioners at the Supreme Court as it is seen to have vague provisions allowing abuses against rights to free speech, due process and privacy.

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