Lagman: Anti-Terrorism Act is unconstitutional because it imposes prior restraint on freedom of expression

Published July 8, 2020, 3:12 PM

by Ben Rosario

Contrary to claims by its proponents, the newly signed Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 is presumed unconstitutional for imposing prior restraint on the freedom of expression.


Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman aired this argument as he cited the Supreme court ruling on Social Weather Stations vs. Comelec that stressed that a law being questioned for imposing prior restraint on the basic freedom of expression is “presumed unconstitutional.”

“This decision contradicts the repeated claims of the proponents of the new anti-terrorism act that it enjoys the “presumption of constitutionality,” stated Lagman.

Lagman was among the parties in four separate petitions asking the High Tribunal to stop government from implementing the Anti-Terrorism Law for various constitutional infractions.

All of the four petitions so far filed with the Supreme Court have protested that among the unconstitutional provisions of the “Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020” is its criminalization of “threat”, “proposal”, and “inciting” to commit terrorism, because it has chilling effects deterring the exercise of free speech and the right to dissent.

“Ordinarily, the presumption is that a law is constitutional. However, in cases involving the suppression of free speech, the presumption is reversed because the questioned statute is presumed unconstitutional and it is the burden of the government to prove its constitutionality,” he explained.

The Makabayan bloc, composed of six partylist congressmen, also cited the alleged unconstitutionality of the new law as reasons why the High Court should reject it.

Lagman said that in the In the SWS vs. COMELEC, the High Court voided the provision in the Fair Election Act which prohibited the publication of election survey results within fifteen (15) days prior to an election affecting national candidates and within seven (7) days before an election affecting local candidates, because it imposed a prior restraint on the exercise of freedom of expression.

It was categorically held that: “… such a (contested) measure is vitiated by a weighty presumption of invalidity. Indeed, ‘any system of prior restraints of expression comes to this Court bearing a heavy presumption against its constitutional validity… The Government thus carries a heavy burden of showing justification for the enforcement of such restraint’.”

“It was further ruled that “[t]here is thus a reversal of the normal presumption of validity that inheres in every legislation,” he added.