LIVE: Oral arguments on petitions vs the anti-terrorism law

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MANILA, Philippines — Amid a rise in red-tagging, continued attacks on activists and progressive groups, and shrinking spaces for dissent, many eyes are now trained on the Supreme Court as it hears the petitions seeking the nullification of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.

Thirty-seven groups are pinning their hopes on the 15 sitting justices of the SC to strike down the law, or parts of it, as unconstitutional. They plead that the tribunal hear their arguments that the measure violates many of the protected freedoms of the Filipino people and its vague and overbroad provisions make it prone to abuse.

The track record of President Rodrigo Duterte and his men, accused of creating a culture of fear and impunity, does not inspire confidence that the anti-terrorism law will not be used to target activists and dissenters, many of whom have been labelled by the state as rebels and enemies.

Senators too have promised they would quickly act if the measure's implementation leads to abuses, but the few inquiries held into such reports do not give the law’s critics assurance either.

Duterte signed Republic Act 11479 or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, in July, as the Philippines was grappling with the debilitating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and despite broad opposition to the bill.

The first petition against the law was filed, electronically, less than 24 hour since the Palace announced its signing. In the succeeding weeks, the SC saw more than 30 petitioners knock on its gates to hear their arguments against the law and to ask magistrates to take their experience and history into consideration.

The 37 groups of petitioners have picked seven lawyers, led by former Solicitor General Jose Anselmo Cadiz, to face off with Solicitor General Jose Calida, who has had a winning streak at the SC.

RELATED: Lawyer to amplify long unheard Moro, IP voices at anti-terrorism law debate

A majority of the petitioners have been pressing the SC to halt the implementation of the law, citing how the law had “chilled” Filipinos to silence for fear of arrest under the law. But the SC moved to hear the oral arguments first before they resolve petitioners’ prayer for a temporary restraining order or status quo ante order.

The Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 has already been used against two Aeta farmers from Zambales who are accused of violating Section 4 of RA 11479, which defines terrorism, and which petitioners have assailed for being vague and overbroad.

Tune in to the live audio streaming of the oral arguments scheduled at 2:30  p.m. on Tuesday, February 2.






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