Supreme Court urged: Issue halt order vs anti-terrorism law now
Rights lawyers Chel Diokno and Erin Tañada, and Rep. Kit Belmonte (Quezon City) filed the 13th legal challenge against Republic Act 11479 or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 on Thursday, July 23.
JUCRA pool photo

Supreme Court urged: Issue halt order vs anti-terrorism law now

Kristine Joy Patag ( - August 25, 2020 - 10:16am

MANILA, Philippines — A group of petitioners against the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, through the Free Legal Assistance Group, urged the Supreme Court to immediately issue a halt order to stop the implementation of the much-feared law.

In an motion, the petitioners composed by opposition senators, journalists and rights lawyers asked the SC to grant their prayer for the issuance of a temporary restraining order to enjoin the government from enforcing Republic Act 11479.

The FLAG petition is the 13th of the at least 29 legal challenges the anti-terrorism law is facing at the high court. They asked the tribunal to strike down the entire RA 11479 for being void.

Regulation of social media

The petitioners said that a month since they filed their pleading, the government officials they named as respondents, “events have unfolded and official statements have been openly and public made... which confirm and reaffirm the urgent and paramount necessity of this Honorable Court’s issuance of a TRO.”

They cited the earlier remarks of Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay, new Armed Forces of the Philippines chief, who said he would suggest regulating social media to be included in the crafting of the law’s Implementing Rules and Regulation.

READ: New AFP chief wants to regulate social media through the anti-terrorism lawAFP proposal to regulate social media shows anti-terrorism law's overreach — lawyer

“The casual conflation of ‘radicalization’ with ‘terrorism’ by a ranking enforcer of the law does not portend a measured, tolerant, and even-handed implementation of a dangerously vague law,” the petitioners said.

While Gapay later said he only meant to say “to regulate the platforms on the contents they allow to be uploaded,” this would be prior restraint and “repression in broad daylight.” FLAG pointed out that this is “presumptively unconstitutional.”

Citing Chavez vs Gonzales, they stressed: “Any law or official that requires some form of permission to be had before publication can be made, commits an infringement of the constitutional right, and remedy can be had at the courts.”

FLAG added that the government’s intention to regulate speech on social media shows the “chilling effect” of the anti-terrorism law, and this would push ordinary citizens, news organizations and even dignitaries in the government to rethink and self-censor for fear that they may be accused of inciting to terrorism.

“In choosing between incurring a life sentence for posting a 140-character tweet, on one hand, and silence, on the hand, and silence, on the other, the choice to all but the bravest is painfully obvious,” the petitioners told the court.

In their petition, FLAG assailed the law for failing to give a ordinary people “fair notice that his or her contemplated speech is prohibited,” that may drive them to self-censorship.

“In this eleventh hour, this Court stands as the last and only vanguard of our fragile democracy,” the petitioners told the SC. If the high court will not enjoin the enforcement of the law, FLAG said freedoms of the Bill of Rights “will be irrevocably and irreversibly chilled and mangled beyond recognition.”

There are currently 29 legal challenges against the anti-terrorism law. Martial law-era Solicitor General Estelito Mendoza meanwhile sought to be allowed to stand as “friend of court” and urge the SC to junk the petitions, while Solicitor General Jose Calida urged the tribunal to cancel the oral arguments.

The SC is set to hold an en banc session on Tuesday.

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