Last July 29, what could perhaps be best described as an odd group of 19 different people filed at the Supreme Court the 21st petition lodged thus far against the Anti-Terrorism Law.
Lawyers and law students on Twitter were pleasantly surprised. Many said they look forward to citing the case, making a digest, and reciting in class the names of the petitioners. Others sent word that they would happily volunteer as collaborating counsel or legal researchers.
Collectively known as Concerned Online Citizens in the case docketed as GR 252809 are the following: Mark Averilla, known as Macoy Dubs; Marita Dinglasan, known as Aling Marie; spoken word artist and writer Juan Miguel Severo; blogger Jover Laurio of Pinoy Ako Blog, blogger-turned-lawmaker Mong Palatino; Twitter “bhie bhie gurl” and college student Mark Geronimo; artist and college student Albert Raqueño; mental health champion Dr. Gia Sison; award-winning artist, illustrator, and author Rob Cham; writer and LGBT advocate Thysz Estrada; writer and editor Stefan Punongbayan; Ian Porquia of Reklamador Facebook Page; community manager Noelle Capili; blogger and advocate Jhay Rocas; agrarian reform campaigner JC Mercado; engineer and activist Victor Crisostomo; Cebu tourism advocate Ka Bino Guerrero; Mindanao blogging community pioneer Blogie Robillo; and yours truly, this blogger-turned-columnist.
Some of you may ask: Why go to court when the best legal minds have already done it for you?
We felt it important to bring to court the serious concerns of the vibrant online communities we belong to, and those of the country’s 73 million Internet users. Simply put: The new law threatens everyone’s Internet freedom.
Perhaps the best explanation for what we did can be found in our petition’s prefatory statement which I publish here in full, and which we, Concerned Online Citizens, hope would be read and supported by those who value freedom whether offline or online:
Access to the Internet has become important to the daily lives of Filipinos and people worldwide. In fact, the United Nations has declared that access to the Internet is a right, and that “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, in particular freedom of expression, which is applicable regardless of frontiers and through any media of one’s choice, in accordance with Articles 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”
The Supreme Court itself maintains a website, and has recently held proceedings online, including interviews held by the Judicial and Bar Council. Local courts and prosecutors, too, have been authorized to hold online conferences, online inquests and hearings. It recognizes that the internet is covered by the full protection of law guaranteed by the Constitution. The same guarantees should apply to ordinary citizens in their online exercise of the Bill of Rights.
The ongoing pandemic has also brought to the Internet the conduct of the country’s commerce, education, media, and the delivery of government services in a manner never seen before. The interplay and interaction of citizens, organizations, businesses and government in Internet must thus be protected jealously and meticulously against unwarranted government intrusion and from violations of fundamental freedoms.
The assailed Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 is like a sword hanging over the heads of citizens who are now mostly conducting on the Internet interactions, transactions, commerce and business, media consumption, availment of government services, and public debate on national issues. “Mere suspicion” by unelected executive officials who have hypersensitivity to any or all forms criticism could mete anyone a charge of “terrorism”.
The arbitrary application of laws to citizens merely exercising their constitutionally-guaranteed right to free expression in the Internet even prior to enactment and implementation of the terror law does not give petitioners and the public any sense of security and confidence.
• The case of Linn Silawan, an OFW in Taiwan, who a labor attache sought to deport to the Philippines solely because she spoke against the president.
• Olongapo teacher arrested, detained, and charged for online threats against Duterte.
• Campus journalists forced to apologize over criticisms vs Duterte.
• Four arrested for online protest.
• Five Kadamay members arrested for joining online protest.
• Barangay declares resident “persona non grata” over online criticism.
• Cebu artist arrested over COVID-19 social media post.
• #ProtestFromHome | Grupo ng maralita, kinundena ang ‘red-tagging’ ng PNP.
Petitioners come to the court with their own stories, experiences, and worries: Threats of prosecution, direct harassment from high government officials, many of whom have been given new, sweeping powers by the assailed law, and the chilling effect on their followers and the general public engendered by the overly broad, vague and dangerous provisions that could easily be abused and misused.
Would the mere mention or reportage by petitioners, members of the media and the public in the online space of organizations and persons designated as ‘terrorist” by executive officials make them liable under the law?
The Philippines, including our portion of the Internet, must be free. The Constitution and international human rights obligations must also apply to the Internet: Bill of Rights, that includes the essentials of due process. The assailed law accomplishes what real terrorists, as well as corrupt and incompetent officials and other violators of the law themselves wish to do:
Create a climate of fear, limit our liberties and freedoms, evade and pass accountability for their acts, and disrupt our supposedly democratic way of life.
Aptly, this case is one that squarely falls within what this Honorable Court may refer to as “of paramount importance,” “of overarching significance to society,” “issues raised are of far reaching implications,” or “of paramount public interest,” among others. Operationalizing for this instant case, this is “of transcendental importance,” hence cognizable under the circumstances.