SC justices, UN rapporteur discuss anti-terrorism law

Dapne Galvez - The Philippine Star
SC justices, UN rapporteur discuss anti-terrorism law
Irene Khan, United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, undergoes immigration procedures at NAIA last January 22, 2024.

MANILA, Philippines — The country’s Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) was among the topics discussed during the meeting of Supreme Court (SC) justices, led by Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo, with United Nations Special Rapporteur for freedom of opinion and expression Irene Khan.

According to the SC, it provided Khan with a copy of the high court’s rules on the ATA and related laws.

Gesmundo explained to Khan that the rules were promulgated by the SC “to ensure that our judges will handle properly and effectively and protecting the rights of people vis-à-vis prosecution against antiterrorism.”

They also discussed with Khan the SC’s decision that declared unconstitutional certain provisions of the ATA, with Senior Associate Justice Marvic Leonen explaining that the law said the SC “can only rule upon on its face with respect to certain provisions that clearly violate freedom of expression.

“Therefore, we went on to strike down certain conditions which were vague in terms of the definition of the ATA. But I think you may have noticed that we did not rule on certain aspects of the ATA simply because we wanted to make sure that the balance between expression, opinion as well as security can come out in an actual case,” Leonen said.

For her part, Khan pointed out “human rights cannot exist without the rule of law.”

Leonen expressed the court’s appreciation that Khan understood that there is a balance between expression and security.

The SC said they also discussed its strategic plan for judicial innovations and reforms, with Gesmundo assuring Khan that the Philippine judiciary is “highly cognizant” of the universal principles of freedom of speech and expression and it always seeks to strike a balance between such freedoms and the right of the state to protect itself.

The court said they also discussed the Shari’ah justice system, the increase of female judges and gender balance, and human rights.

According to the SC, Khan described her dialogue with SC justices as “an inspirational meeting.”

Khan is in the country until Feb. 2 to examine the state of rights of freedom of opinion and expression in the Philippines, after which she is expected to come up with a final report for submission to the 59th session of the UN Human Rights Council in June.

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