Diokno to SC justices: Social media posts may be considered terrorism under anti-terror law

Diokno to SC justices: Social media posts may be considered terrorism under anti-terror law
Various human rights groups march to the Supreme Court in Manila on February 2, 2021 ahead of the oral arguments on the 37 petitions against the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.

MANILA, Philippines — Even ordinary citizens who exercise their basic rights on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter may be put at risk because of the anti-terrorism law, a human rights lawyer said as he urged the Supreme Court to strike down the controversial law.

The Supreme Court held Tuesday oral arguments on the 37 petitions challenging Republic Act 11479 or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.

Chel Diokno, one of the seven lawyers who presented the positions of the petitioners, said the measure gives law enforcers the power to arrest any citizen based on their subjective impression of his or her intent.

The law provides that terrorism does not include advocacy, protest, dissent, stoppage of work, industrial or mass action, and other similar exercises of civil and political rights. But it stressed these activities should not be intended to “cause death or serious physical harm to a person, to endanger a person’s life or to create a serious risk to public safety.”

“No other law makes the exercise of constitutional rights a crime when actuated by a certain intent. No other law empowers the State to arrest its people for exercising rights guaranteed by the Constitution based solely on a law enforcer’s subjective opinion of their state of mind,” Diokno said.

The chair of the Free Legal Assistance Group stressed that anyone who exercises basic rights may be found liable for terrorism crimes.

“Anyone, therefore, who tweets for people to attend a peaceful rally could be arrested for engaging in acts intended to endanger a person’s life due to the danger of [COVID-19] infection,” Diokno said.

“Anyone who posts on Facebook for the people to boycott a digital services company owned by someone close to the president or who engages in a transport strike, could be arrested for engaging in acts intended to cause extensive interference with critical infrastructure since the term includes ‘system[s] affecting telecommunications… and transportation,’” he added.

Cardinal Sin

Diokno stressed that if the law were applied in 1986, Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin’s call for people power would qualify as inciting to terrorism. The Catholic Church leader urged the public to go to Camp Crame and protect political leaders who had broken ties with late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr.

“By exhorting the people to gather at EDSA, Cardinal Sin incited them to engage in acts intended to cause extensive interference with critical infrastructure and to endanger people’s lives,” Diokno said.

“Cardinal Sin’s call would also qualify as seriously destabilizing the country’s fundamental political and creating a public emergency,” he added.

Diokno asked the tribunal to nullify the law “before it inflicts a mortal wound on the rights and freedoms that give life to our cherished democracy.”

Brandenburg v. Ohio

Associate Justice Rosmari Carandang, who was first to interpellate, asked Diokno whether a call of a social media influencer with one million followers on Twitter to topple the government by bombing Malacañang could qualify as inciting to terrorism.

Carandang asked this in line with the Branderburg test, which was established in the Branderburg v. Ohio, a landmark decision of the United States Supreme Court.

The test determined that the government may prohibit speech advocating the use of force or crime if it satisfies both elements of the two-part test which include: the speech is “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action” and the speech is “likely to incite or produce such action.”

“The problem with Section 9 (inciting to terrorism) is that it does not incorporate the requirements of Branderburg,” Diokno said.

“That is not found in the law… While there’s an attempt by the implementing rules to include that, that is an essential element that should only be made by Congress,” he added. — Gaea Katreena Cabico


As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: July 19, 2021 - 8:33am

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 

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. 


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.

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