Philippine journalists: Anti-terrorism law will reduce country to unquestioning individuals

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Philippine journalists: Anti-terrorism law will reduce country to unquestioning individuals
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

MANILA, Philippines — As the Supreme Court continues its debates on the petitions against the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, Philippine journalists join the call to strike down the law for its chilling effect on media practice.

The Freedom for Media, Freedom for All network, and 17 news organizations and 79 journalists, on Monday lent their voices to the growing opposition to the anti-terrorism law, saying its provisions “trample upon fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of the press.”

“The ATA will not succeed in reducing the threat of terrorism with over-reaching prohibitions on expressive as well as political freedoms. It will reduce this country to a field of submissive and unquestioning individuals, to be herded like by sheep by the police and military,” they said.

The FMFA network is composed of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, MindaNews, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism and Philippine Press Institute.

The media coalition noted that Section 9 of the ATA, under inciting to terrorism, proscribes speech, proclamations, writings, emblems and banners and imposes a 12-year imprisonment.

“As the law fails to provide a clear definition of terrorism and is vague about what constitutes acts of terrorism, Section 9 could make media practitioners vulnerable to wrongful charges and arrests, producing a chilling effect on all media practice,” they said.

Journalists are among the petitioners against the anti-terrorism law. In their plea, assisted by the Free Legal Assistance Group, they told the court that the law may drive them to self-censorship due to fear of being labelled as terrorists.

They would have to toe the line not to write a story that may be misconstrued for intending to cause injury or endanger a person’s life or destruction to property or intimidate the public—all qualifiers of terrorist acts.

Due to the “sheer amount of guesswork, qualification, mincing and moderation,” a good number of journalists may opt to not write at all, the petitioners said.


FMFA also pointed out that the government’s claims of assurances fly in the face of news organizations and journalists’ experience of being red-tagged and branded as terrorists.

“With the government’s anti-insurgency campaign causing a rise in killings of activists, we fear for the safety of our colleagues,” FMFA said.

“Many of us have seen how efforts to go after ‘enemies of the people’ have led to zealous securitization of the government’s response to the problems of the country,” they added.

In a separate petition of Filipino journalists and artists, they told the SC that even before the anti-terrorism law’s passage, National Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict officials have been red-tagging journalists and artists.

The petitioners, assisted by rights lawyer Evalyn Ursua, also said Section 9 should be struck down for being unconstitutional as it involve content-based restraint on speech and expression—and cannot pass the clear and present danger test.

FMFA called on the government to uphold the freedom of the press and protect the rights and safety of journalists at all times. “We reject the Anti-Terrorism Act,” they also said.

The SC will resume its oral arguments on Tuesday. Justices will continue their interpellation of lawyers from the Office of the Solicitor General.




As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: June 22, 2022 - 8:18am

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 

June 22, 2022 - 8:18am

National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon moves to block access to several websites, including news sites of alternative news orrganizations Bulatlat.com and Pinoyweekly.org.

In his letter to the National Telecommunications Commission, he only says the websites are "affiliated to and are supporting these terrorists and terrorist organizations."

No other basis to back up his allegation was cited in the letter.

December 12, 2021 - 1:10pm

The Commission on Human Rights says it "partly welcomes" the Supreme Court decision that some parts of the controversial Anti-terrorism Law are unconstitutional.

CHR spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia says the commission remains hopeful that the remaining contentious provisions of the law will be clarified by the high cour in the full text of the decision.

"At the same time, our commitment remains in guarding against possible human rights violations arising from the implementation of the anti-terror law. We steadfastly remind the government that countering terrorism and protecting human rights are not competing values but are, in fact, mutual and complementary," De Guia says in a statement.

December 7, 2021 - 7:10pm

The Supreme Court has deliberated and voted on the controversial Anti-Terrorism Act but the decision will be released "at the soonest time possible."

"However, considering that there were numerous issues resolved in the case, as well as the fact that each Justice had to vote on each issue, there is a need to accurately confirm and tally the vote of each Justice in order to ensure the correct resolution of the Court per issue," SC spokesperson Brian Hosaka says.

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. 


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