Two retired SC justices, others file 11th petition vs. anti-terrorism law

Published July 22, 2020, 1:32 PM

by Rey Panaligan 

Two retired Supreme Court (SC) justices and their group filed on Wednesday, July 22, the 11th petition against the alleged unconstitutionality of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), Republic Act No. 11479.


Retired Associate Justices Antonio T. Carpio and Conchita Carpio Morales and several other petitioners asked the SC to stop, through a restraining order, the continued implementation of the law that started last July 18.

Their petition zeroed in on the alleged vagueness of RA 11479 “that allows law enforcement officials to make the law as they enforce it.”

They also pointed out that “the lack of parameters makes the ATA a loose cannon that threatens a wide spectrum of protected liberties.”

The other petitioners are University of the Philippines’ Associate Dean and Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea Director Jay L. Batongbacal, Institute for the Administration of Justice Director Dante B. Gatmaytan, and Senior Professorial Lecturers Victoria V. Loanzon and Anthony Charlemagne C. Yu, former SC public information office head Theodore O. Te, former Magdalo Party-list Representative and Security Analyst Francisco Ashley L. Acedillo , and incumbent UP University Student Council Councilor Tierone James M. Santos.

Named respondents were the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC), the Senate, the House of Representatives, Executive Secretary Salvador C. Medialdea, and several Cabinet secretaries.

In a summary of the electronically filed petition, the petitioners challenged “ATA’s ‘intrusion’ into exclusive judicial prerogatives by the political branches of government.”

They said “the Judiciary’s power to uphold the Constitution must not be diminished by laws that slowly chip away the boundaries between the three branches of government.”

For Carpio and Morales, they emphasized “the delicate balance of power between the three branches of government as essential to a truly democratic system.”

Specifically, the petitioners questioned ATA’s “vague and overbroad definition of terrorism which may result in erratic and arbitrary application by law enforcers and may chill the people into silence.”

They said that “although Section 4 provides that terrorism ‘shall not include advocacy, protest, dissent, stoppage of work, industrial or mass action, and other similar exercises of civil and political rights,’ this qualifier is rendered pointless by the succeeding phrase ‘which are not intended to cause death or serious physical harm to a person, to endanger a person’s life, or to create a serious risk to public safety.’”

Thus, they said, “unsuspecting citizens would second-guess whether their actions would result in ‘extensive interference’ or ‘endanger’ the life of another in some shape or form.”

Citing an example, the petitioners in their summary said that “Justice Carpio’s advocacy of advancing the country’s claims in the West Philippine Sea may be construed as meant to provoke the government into changing its foreign policy and endanger lives by escalating tensions with the Chinese.”

In the case of petitioners who are members of the academe, they told the SC that “in their exercise of academic freedom, (they) have also critiqued past and current government action, which now seemingly falls within the ATA depending on what reading it is given.”

The summary also stated that the petitioners “assail the creation of the ATC with its integral power to order the warrantless arrest of persons merely ‘suspected’ of committing terrorist acts.”

“This allows an executive body to encroach on a judge’s exclusive prerogative to issue arrest warrants, substitute its ‘suspicion’ in place of the constitutional requirement of probable cause, and usurp the Supreme Court’s rule-making power by illegitimately carving out an additional exception to justify warrantless arrests,” they said.

They pointed out that “individuals or members of designated organizations may be stripped of access to their bank accounts by the Anti-Money Laundering Council even without a court order.”

At the same time, they assailed “the overbroad discretionary powers to wiretap private communication based on mere suspicion and in violation of the right against unreasonable searches and seizures, as well as the grant of unbridled discretion to the ATC to impose security classifications on all its records.”

“Since its operational provisions are unconstitutional for failing the ‘strict scrutiny’ test — whether the law chose the least restrictive means or narrowly tailored the means to protect the compelling State interest — the ATA cannot be implemented and must be voided in its entirety,” they stressed.

Last week, the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) asked the SC to dismiss the first four petitions filed against ATA.

In its comment, the OSG told the SC: “The government should not be perceived as the enemy, but rather as a guardian in safeguarding the Filipino people and ensuring the enjoyment of all of our constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.”

It said the ATA “incarnates the State’s policy ‘to protect life, liberty, and property from terrorism, to condemn terrorism as inimical and dangerous to national security of the country and to the welfare of the Filipino people, against humanity, and against the Law of Nations.’”

“More specifically, the enactment of this law is part of the Philippines’ obligation to ensure respect for the rights to life and the right to security,” it also said.

The OSG stressed: “The Anti-Terrorism Act is needed to fight the continuous and aggressive security threats brought about by terrorism.”

The 10 petitions against ATA since it was signed into law by President Duterte last July 3 were those filed by the group of lawyer Howard Calleja and former education secretary Armin Luistro, Rep. Edcel C. Lagman, the group of Law Dean Mel Sta. Maria and several professors of the Far Eastern University (FEU), the Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives led by Bayan Muna Party-List Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate, the former head of the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel Rudolph Philip B. Jurado, the group of former members of the 1986 Constitutional Commission Christian S. Monsod and Felicitas A. Aquino and their group from the Ateneo Human Rights Center, two labor groups represented by the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR) and the Pro-Labor Legal Assistance Center (PLACE), the Party-List organization Sanlakas, several labor groups led by the Federation of Free Workers, and the group of cause-oriented and advocacy organizations.