SC receives 3 more petitions against Anti-Terror Act

Published July 6, 2020, 1:55 PM

by Rey Panaligan 

Three more petitions were filed with the Supreme Court (SC) on Monday challenging the constitutionality of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 that was signed into law by President Duterte last July 3 as Republic Act No. 11479. 

All the petitions sought the issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO) to stop the government from implementing the law starting July 19. 

Atty. Howard Calleja with fromer Education Secretary Bro. Armin Luistro lead the filing of petition for Special Civil Action for Certiorari and Prohibition with Urgent Prayer for TRO, Writ of Preliminary Injunction &/or Other Injunctive Remedies vs Anti Terrorism Act filed at the Supreme Court on Monday.
(Jansen Romero / MANILA BULLETIN)

The three new petitions were those filed by Law Dean Mel Sta. Maria and several professors of the Far Eastern University (FEU), Rep. Edcel C. Lagman, and the Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives led by Bayan Muna Party-list Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate. 

The first petition was filed electronically last July 4 by a group led by lawyer Howard Calleja and former education secretary Armin Luistro. Hard copies of their petition were filed with the SC on Monday, July 6. 

While the three petitions pleaded to declare unconstitutional several provisions in RA 11479, the case filed by the group of Zarate sought the declaration of the law in its entirety as violative of the Constitution. 

It was not known immediately if the four petitions will be taken up in the High Court’s regular full court session on Tuesday, July 7. 

A check with the SC showed that the first petition filed by Calleja’s group was raffled off to a justice in charge only on Monday. 

All the three other petitions have to each undergo a raffle for assignment to a justice in-charge. 

The justices-in charge will have to make their recommendations to the full court which, thereafter, may decide to consolidate the four petitions into one case. 

Under the SC’s internal rules, the justice in-charge who handles the petition which has the lowest docket number will get all the cases. 

The group of Sta. Maria challenged Sections 4, 25, and 29 of RA 11479.

It told the SC that “in effect, the general manner by which the provision (Section 4) is couched puts constitutionally protected speeches and expressions under a criminal class, or at least, to a suspect class, to the detriment of these freedoms.” 

On Sections 25 and 29, Sta. Maria’s group told the SC that the provisions “attempted to legitimize warrantless arrests on the basis of mere suspicion, and for encroaching on exclusively judicial power and prerogative.”

It pointed out that Sections 25 and 29 “completely disregard and violate Article III, Section 2 of the fundamental law by supplanting the Constitutional requirements before an individual may be arrested and deprived of liberty, namely a judicially issued warrant of arrest and the stringent requisites for a lawful warrantless arrest.” 

At the same time, the group stressed that RA 11479 “unduly interferes and restricts academic institutions and faculty members from freely determining and stating what to teach and how to teach… as the Act imposes Stateregulations that will stifle academic freedom by threatening to punish thinking and critical exchanges against the government that may be considered as terrorism.” 

Aside from Zarate, the other petitioners were Reps. Ferdinand Gaite, Eufemia Cullamat, Arlene D. Brosas, France I. Castro and Sarah Jane I. Elago, and Saturnino Ocampo, Liza Largoza Maza, Neri J. Colmenares, Antonio Tinio, Ariel Casilao, and Nathanael Santiago. 

“Given the vast and greater powers conferred under RA 11479, as well as the statute’s permanence, unless struck down… will have wide-ranging effects of violating existing constitutionally guaranteed rights of our people…,” they said. 

Specifically, they told the SC that Section 4 of RA 11479 “is unconstitutional because it violates the freedom of speech and its cognate rights.” Sections 16, 17, 18, 19, 20 and 22, they said, “violate the fundamental right to privacy,” while Section 25 on the power of the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) “violates due process rights.” 

They also challenged as unconstitutional Sections 26 and 27 on what the law states as “preliminary order of proscription.” 

Section 29 on the detention without judicial warrant was challenged by the group as unconstitutional for “violation of the principle of separation of powers” since under the Constitution “only a judge can issue arrest warrants… upon judicial determination of probable cause.” 

Thus, Zarate’s group asked the SC that “after due hearing and deliberation, declare as null and void RA 11479….” 

In his petition, Lagman said “the war against suspected terrorists and the campaign against terrorism cannot be pursued and intensified by sacrificing human rights, civil liberties, and fundamental freedoms which are enshrined in and protected by the Constitution.” 

Among the alleged unconstitutional provisions in RA 11479 cited by Lagman are: 

1. “The redefinition of the crime of terrorism is cast in vague and ambiguous language so much so that there is no certitude on what acts are proscribed and the people are perplexed on what acts to avoid. 

2. “The criminalization of ‘threat’, ‘proposal’, and ‘inciting’ to commit terrorism has chilling effects deterring the exercise of the right to free speech and dissent. 

3. “The imposition of a maximum of 24 days of prolonged detention of a suspect without a judicial warrant or without charging him before a judicial authority is an unreasonable seizure of a person in violation of the Bill of Rights. 

4. “A maximum of 90 days technical surveillance and wiretapping of communications is an unreasonable invasion of a person’s privacy which is guaranteed by the Constitution. 

5. “An inordinately long maximum of six-month investigation of a suspect’s bank accounts and the freezing of his assets, both without judicial authorization, and the open-ended freezing of property or funds in certain circumstances, constitute unreasonable seizure of one’s assets.” 

Named respondents in almost all the petitions were the President, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, the secretaries of the Department of National Defense, Department of Interior and Local Government, Department of Finance, Department of Justice, Department of Information and Communications Technology, and the executive director of the Anti-Money Laundering Council.