Colmenares tells SC: Authorities 'not helpless' against terrorists without anti-terrorism law
Associate Justice Edgardo Delos Santos interpellated National Union of Peoples' Lawyers chair Neri Colmenares during the oral arguments on anti-terrorism law petitions on March 2, 2021.
Screenshot from the Supreme Court Public Information Office livestream

Colmenares tells SC: Authorities 'not helpless' against terrorists without anti-terrorism law

Kristine Joy Patag (Philstar.com) - March 3, 2021 - 3:11pm

MANILA, Philippines — Law enforcers and the military are not helpless against terrorists without the reviled Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, petitioner Neri Colmenares, a former lawmaker and known rights lawyer, told the Supreme Court.

During the resumption of oral arguments on Tuesday, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers chair Colmenares said: “They are not hopeless under current situation, as if they’re portraying themselves that if the ATA is gone, we have no other way to stop terrorists. They have.”

Associate Justice Ricardo Rosario noted that terrorism is a much complex crime, unlike other simple offenses such as murder or theft. Elaborate planning is done and it causes extensive damages, too. “Don’t you think that the authorities should be given some more slack in dealing with it?”

The justice added that 14-day detention, which can be extended by another 10 days for suspected terrorists, may be a valid exercise of congressional prerogative to extend the periods in Article 125 of the Revised Penal Code, for the “difficult task to weed out terrorism.”

But Colmenares said that no matter the claim of authorities that they need more tools, they are already empowered to do so under the Human Security Act of 2007, which the ATA repealed, along with other crimes under the RPC and other laws.

“Even if I said the HSA is draconian, [it] already allowed surveillance, monitoring, freezing of accounts, even arrest a suspect without a warrant… Their argument that we need ATA because we don’t have tools to ferret out these crimes is actually wrong because they were allowed by various laws,” Colmenares said.

Poor intelligence work

In separate interpellation from Associate Justice Edgardo Delos Santos, Colmenares said problems may be found in the implementation of the HSA and poor intelligence work.

He narrated that if asked on what part of the HSA resulted in the failure of authorities to stop the Marawi siege, no answer can be given. “Because it was not the HSA that was the problem. It’s actually the implementation of the intel work,” the long-time rights lawyer said.

Colmenares continued: “If your intelligence work your honor says that Alex Padilla and Roan Libarios are [members] of [Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army], then nothing will come out of this, even if you pass then ATAs.”

The Armed Forces of the Philippines erroneously tagged Padilla and Libarios, both known lawyers, among supposed University of the Philippines students who joined the New People’s Army who were killed or captured.

RELATED: IBP calls out military's 'ridiculous red-tagging' of lawyers

Former Solicitor General Jose Anselmo Cadiz also told the court, during the interpellation of Associate Justice Rodil Zalameda, that authorities need not wait for overt acts of a person committing terrorism or conspiring to do as such.

“I disagree. As I said, with good intelligence work and with good police work we can be able to prevent these things from happening," Cadiz said.

Fears of abuse

Justice Delos Santos also noted that the court has said in the past that that facts should not be substituted with fears. “In one case, this court said the sea of suspicion has no shore, but it’s like a boat without a rudder.”

Colmenares asserted that while there is a fear that law enforcers may violate the rights of people, especially of those known as critics of the government, their main argument is the law is unconstitutional.

 “Whether or not they will abuse it is of no primary comment. Are they given the unbridled discretion? The court has declared in so many times that laws are unconstitutional because of unbridled discretion,” he added.

The SC wrapped up its interpellation of the petitioners on Tuesday, after four hours-long sessions. Solicitor General Jose Calida is expected to present the government’s defense of the law on March 9.

Meanwhile, recaps of the four days of the oral arguments may be read hereherehere and here

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: April 21, 2021 - 5:53pm

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 

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.

March 14, 2021 - 4:04pm

Oral arguments on the Anti-Terrorism Act, initially pushed back to March 16, are suspended to give way to disinfection of Supreme Court buildings and offices.


March 8, 2021 - 4:34pm

Oral arguments on the Anti-Terrorism Act will not push through on Tuesday because some justices are on self-quarantine, the Supreme Court Clerk of Court says.

Debate to resume on March 16.

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