Chief presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo has accused the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) of using its religious influence to pressure the Supreme Court (SC) to decide against the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) of 2020.
Panelo made the statement after the CBCP, in a letter, expressed disbelief about the manner in which the contentious Anti-Terror Bill was fast-tracked and approved in both Houses of Congress while the whole country’s attention was focused on the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a statement, Panelo said CBCP’s act could be considered as a violation of the doctrine of the Separation of Church and State as mandated by the Constitution under Section 6 the article of the same name, noting CBCP’s question: “Will the highest level of our Judiciary assert its independence, or will they, too, succumb to political pressure?”
“Such advocacy, coupled with its call to its faithful followers to prayer, effectively exerts religious influence or pressure on the Supreme Court to decide against a national law designed to combat the global crime of terrorism and to secure the safety of the Filipino people,” he said Sunday.
Even if it was not a violation of the Separation of Church and State doctrine, Panelo said CBCP’s sentiments parrot those of the detractors that the Anti-Terrorism Act is a violation of the Constitution.
The controversial measure has gotten its 10th petition against it before the Supreme Court.
According to Panelo, all petitions should be dismissed for “utter lack of merit” on procedural and substantive grounds.
“It appears that all petitioners have adopted a favorite phrase — ‘chilling effect’ — in describing the law’s provisions when implemented,” he said.
Panelo said the ATA cannot be any clearer.
“The definition of the crime of terrorism is as clear as the sunlight, the same being precise that leaves no room for misinterpretation. It abounds with safeguards protective of the basic liberties of those arrested and detained, as well as deterrents against possible abuses by law enforcement agents,” he said.
“The law has been passed weeks ago and there have been no signs of any “chilling effect” on those who wish to publicly air their grievances against the government. In fact, the voices of dissent are in wild reckless abandon,” he added.
According to the Palace official, the CBCP only has to trust the country’s judicial system instead of likening the government to “the proverbial frog swimming in a pot of slowly boiling water.”#
“For its education, we have been in a far worse situation for years due to the favorable treatment which people in power or of influence have been receiving from past governments,” Panelo said.
“The present dispensation has taken us out of this environment through the President’s political will in enforcing the law equally to all, bar none, including those managed in the past to be immune therefrom or untouchable,” he added.