The Anti-Terrorism Law: A law against terrorists, or a terrifying law?

Published August 14, 2020, 7:41 AM


Republic Act (RA) 11479 or the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) of 2020 is different things to different people–and there lies the difficulty.


The statute’s title clearly states “anti-terrorism,” but the law itself terrifies a lot of people.

There are important nuances that must be discussed, but we must first go back to the beginning.

The Anti-Terrorism Bill was first pursued during the previous 17th Congress as a replacement to the Human Security Act of 2007, but it didn’t prosper.

Then, in early June during the current 18th Congress and amid the pandemic, Malacañang certified the measure as urgent, with Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque saying later that month that “Terrorists have not stopped launching attacks even if we are grappling with COVID-19.”

By July 3, President Duterte had signed the controversial measure into law.

The first of 27 petitions

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 (Jansen Romero / MANILA BULLETIN)

But less than 24 hours later–the ink of Duterte’s signature barely dry–a group headed by lawyer Howard Calleja and former Education Secretary Armin Luistro electronically filed a petition challenging various provisions of the much-criticized law.

As of this writing, the Supreme Court has received a total of 27 petitions filed by representatives of nearly all sectors of society.

Expanded definition of terrorism

The law’s purpose is to prevent, prohibit, and penalize terrorism in the country in a way that the Human Security Act supposedly failed to do.

It will do this by providing authorities with an expanded definition of terrorism, on top of the creation of the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC), among other provisions.


ATA allows the detention of suspects without a judicial warrant of arrest for 14 days, which can be extended by 10 more days. The same can be placed under surveillance for 60 days, which can also be extended by up to 30 days, by the police or military.

Bayan Muna Party-List Rep. Carlos Zarate and Albay 1st district Rep. Edcel Lagman–who are behind two separate petitions before the High Court–have both cast aspersions on these provisions, calling them unconstitutional and outright dangerous.

“On the pretext of amending the Human Security Act of 2007 to make it more effective in the fight against terrorism, this new anti-terror law has expanded and overly broadened the definition of terrorism to make it easier for authorities to declare legitimate acts of expression, collective action, and dissent protected by the Constitution as terrorism,” claimed Zarate on June 4, a day after the measure gained final approval in the House of Representatives.

Not against suppression of terrorism

In his counter-speech to President Duterte’s State of the Nation Address (SoNA) last July 28, opposition congressman Lagman said: “Those of us opposing the Anti-Terror Act are not against the suppression of terrorism. What we are protesting against is using the fear of terrorism as a pretext to curtail civil liberties.”

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte delivers his 5th State of the Nation Address at the House of Representatives Complex in Quezon City on July 27, 2020. (PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO / MANILA BULLETIN)

Lagman said this fear was “validated” when newly-installed Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay said last week that the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of ATA would be used to regulate social media.

“The Gapay statement extends the infringement of free speech to social media in general despite the absence of a specific provision in the ATA on regulating the Internet platform. The inclusion of the regulation of social media as proposed by Gapay in the IRR of the ATA does not have any legal basis because the IRR cannot modify or amend the law,” Lagman said.

Petitioners raise numerous legal arguments

The SC petitioners raised numerous legal arguments, sought the repeal of the entire law or deletion of certain provisions and called for a temporary or permanent injunction of its implementation.

However, a common plea bonded the petition – that is the prayer asking SC magistrates to strike down the law, in part or in whole, for its unconstitutionality.

The bevy of petitioners included former Vice President Jejomar Binay; retired Supreme Court Justices Antonio Carpio and Conchita Carpio Morales, Senators Leila De Lima and Francis Pangilinan, Reps. Edcel Lagman and Kit Belmonte; the Makabayan bloc composed of six partylist solons and former Sen. Rene A.V.Saguisag; former Comelec Chairman Christian Monsod and Ateneo Human Rights Center lawyer Felicitas Arroyo.
Petitioners from the academe included Dean Mel Sta. Maria and law professors of the Far Eastern University; former Dean Pacifico Agabin of the University of the Philippines College of Law; Dean Anna Maria Abad of the Adamson University College of Law; JV Bautista from the John Wesley School of Law ; Rose Liza-Eisma-Osorio of the University of Cebu school of Law and Dean Maria Soledad Deriquito of the Lyceum School of Law.
Indigenous peoples were also opposed to the perceived unconstitutionality of the law. They were represented by Beverly Longid, of the Kabribu, Windel Bolinget of the Cordillera People’s Alliance; Samira Gutoc, Ako Bakwit; Drieza Liningding of Moro Consensus Group, among others.
Leaders of various faiths called on the High Court to throw out the law. Among them are Bishop Broderick Pabillo of the Archdiocese of Mania; Bishop Normal Marigza, United Church of Christ in the Philippines; Rev. Rex Reyes, Episcopal Church in the Philippines; Dr. Aldrin Penamora of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches and Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of the Roman Catholic Dioceses of San Carlos City.

Sections sought to be declared ‘unconstitutional’ 

Sought to be declared unconstitutional were Sections 4,5,6,7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 (b), 25, 26, 27 and 29 of RA 11479. These provisions contain the definition of terrorism (Section 4) and acts to be penalized (Sections 5-12), which petitioners assailed for being “vague and violative of due process of the law.”

Carpio and Morales noted that while Section 4 provides that terrorism does not include advocacy, protest, dissent, stoppage of work, industrial or mass action and other similar exercises of civil and political rights, the qualifier have been rendered vague 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 serious risk to public safety.”

Read the law — Cayetano

As for the other side of the fence, those who have argued in favor of ATA have a common message: read the law, and relax.

“Basahin natin before we criticize, because ang daling sabihin eh (na may) repression, wala ng democracy, draconian (Let’s read it before we criticize because it’s easy to say that there is repression, there is no more democracy, that it is draconian),” House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said last June 5.

House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano (PCOO / MANILA BULLETIN / FILE PHOTO)

Referring to terrorists, the Speaker said: “The enemy also evolves, becoming more fierce, determined, and innovative in their efforts to destroy and kill people.”

But in case there would be abuses to the law, Cayetano guaranteed that it would be amended. This will take time, of course.

Include section dedicated to accountability – Nograles

Another supporter of RA 11479, Puwersa ng Bayaning Atleta (PBA) Party-list Rep. Jericho Nograles, proposed on June 21 to include in the IRR a whole section dedicated to the accountability of public officers. In that section, Nograles batted for the automatic filing of criminal, administrative and civil cases against public officers who abuse their discretion in carrying out anti-terrorism operations.

“The safeguards in the law must be clear in the IRR to be very sure that the anti-terror law will only be used against terrorists,” the solon stresed.

Safeguards to prevent abuse – Torres-Gomez

Meanwhile, these viral remarks from pro ATA-solon, Leyte 4th District Rep. Lucy Torres-Gomez also lit up both social and traditional media: “It’s not a valid reason to reject needed legislation like the anti-terrorism bill because theoretically speaking, all laws can be abused, even social welfare laws that are very benign and charitable they can be abused. That is why there are safeguards in place to prevent those abuses from happening.”

“We have to read the bill with the right target in mind. This is a bill that aims to (bring) terrorists to justice, this isn’t about making life difficult (for) activists,” Torres-Gomez added.

Stronger law vs terrorism-financing- Biazon

Asked point-blank if he believes that the Philippines is now safer with the ATA, Muntinlupa lone district Rep. Ruffy Biazon said yes.

Muntinlupa lone District Rep. Rozzano Rufino “Ruffy” Biazon

“Naging stronger yung batas natin pagdating sa terrorism-financing. That’s the fuel of terrorism eh–paano ba sila nakakapagrecruit? Kasi may pera sila (We now have a stronger law to address terrorism-financing. That’s the fuel of terrorism–how are they able to recruit? It’s because they have the money).”

Unique position on the law

Biazon’s position on the law is somewhat unique–he pushed for it during the 17th Congress, and again in the 18th Congress; during the House plenary vote, he voted “no” to the bill and withdrew his authorship after learning that the Senate version was to be adopted; despite this, he insists that the country needs ATA.

He noted one key detail that has been “lost in the public discourse”–the Philippines’ gray-listing by the France-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF) should the country fail to upgrade its laws in response to terrorism.
“That’s one of the principal reasons for the law during our discussions in the 17th Congress. Kasi yung atin (Because our) financial system may (has) certain loopholes with regard to combating terrorism-financing. Ang consequence sa atin malalagay tayo sa gray list (We would be gray-listed) as a consequence,” Biazon said.

Explaining this, he said, “We are seen as vulnerable to be used by terrorists in terrorism financing or money-laundering. So isa yun sa mabigat na (That was one of the important) reasons why we needed to update the Human Security Act.”

“Unfortunately, ang focus ng mga discussions napunta doon sa issues raised ng mga oppositors–yung mga concern about freedom of expression, suppression ng speech, mga ganun eh. Na-limit yung discussion (the focus of the discussions went to the issues raised by the oppositors–the concern about freedom of expression, suppression ng speech, and the like. It limited the discussion).” (Benjamin Rosario, Ellson Quismorio)