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Future 'scary and depressing' with SC upholding anti-terrorism law — lawyers

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines — The future is "scary and depressing" with the Supreme Court upholding most of the feared Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, in a vote that in no way gave a win to the petitioners or to Filipinos, lawyers said.

A day after the SC made public its historic vote on the 37 petitions questioning the anti-terrorism law that struck down just two parts of the measure, lawyers asserted that the ATA will not be left unchallenged.

The SC struck down the “killer” qualifier in the proviso on acts defining terrorism that petitioners said upheld that activism and protesting is not a crime. The second method of designation, or the adoption of the United Nations Security Council criteria on designated terrorists, was also declared unconstitutional.

Lawyer Evalyn Ursua, counsel for journalists and artists petitioners, said the ruling was not a win. The two parts of the law that the SC struck down will not curb abuses, since the "extraordinary powers" of the Anti-Terrorism Council remains.

"If we will compare [these] two provisions, these are worthless because the absolute power of the ATC, which acts like a court and acts like it is higher than the courts, remains," she added in Filipino.

Lawyer Virginia Suarez echoed the sentiment. "Amid the volume of our arguments, in the huge number of petitioners, it’s like we’re all mistaken in giving all those arguments to be given only two [provisions struck down," she said in the same virtual press conference.

The ATC has the power to designate terrorists upon finding of probable cause, which would trigger the freezing of subjects' assets. The Council’s written authority would also allow law enforcers to detain suspected terrorists for up to 24 days.

Ursua said the future is scary and depressing. "We were hoping the Supreme Court to protect us, to protect human rights, to protect our constitutional rights, to protect people," she lamented in Filipino.

"Under the decision of the SC, we do not have protection when it comes to human rights. Under this decision, we can expect the abuses of our authorities will continue," she added.

Ursua’s clients, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, said they have stood witness to the "abuse of overzealous law enforcers, either from covering it, or from experiencing it ourselves."

"The striking down of the caveat on political dissent offers no consolation in the context of continuous and intensifying attacks on the Philippine media," they added.

Fight continues

Rep. Carlos Zarate (Bayan Muna party-list) called the SC decision "clear tokenism" for the Filipino people.

Free Legal Assistance Group chairperson Chel Diokno, who is running for senator, said the law still contains many dangers to  the rights of the people, to the right to liberty and to speak freely.

"We renew our commitment to continue to fight for our freedoms and I can speak for everyone here that we will continue our fight," he added.

Lawyer Howard Calleja said they will continue to oppose Section 29 of the law that allows the prolonged detention of suspected terrorists. This was also raised by Rep. Edcel Lagman (Albay), who was one of the oralists and petitioners in the case.

Bayan Muna chairperson Neri Colmenares, also a senatorial aspirant, said that despite the decision, they will continue to oppose the ATA.

Many petitioners have also raised the possibility of filing a motion for reconsideration against the SC ruling.

Lawyer Tony La Viña meanwhile said they will continue to remain vigilant while they wait for the release of the SC’s decision, they vow to appeal and challenge.

Suarez asserted: "Did we win? No. But is it us that lost? No. It’s our people as a whole… So even in a small space given to us to question this, we will continue our fight."

ANTI-TERRORISM LAW

SUPREME COURT

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