Petitioners laud SC ruling on anti-terror law; many declare they will seek reconsideration

Published December 9, 2021, 2:54 PM

by Jeffrey Damicog

Supreme Court

Several petitioners who challenged the constitutionality of Republic Act No. 11479, the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) of 2020, have lauded the Supreme Court’s (SC) decision that declared unconstitutional certain parts of two sections of the law, particularly that which violates the freedom of expression.

But many of them vowed to challenge anew several provisions which have been declared constitutional by the SC.

Declared unconstitutional in ATA, which was enacted on July 3, 2020 and enforced starting July 18, 2020, were:

1. “The qualifier to the proviso in Section 4 of RA 11479, i.e., ‘… 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’ by a vote of 12-3 is declared as unconstitutional for being overbroad and violative of freedom of expression.

2. “The second method for designation in Section 25 paragraph 2 of RA 11479, i.e., ‘Request for designation by other jurisdictions or supranational jurisdictions may be adopted by the ATC (Anti-Terrorism Council) after determination that the proposed designee meets the criteria for designation of UNSCR (United Nations Security Council Resolution) No. 1373’ is declared unconstitutional by a vote of 9-6.”

The SC ruled that “on the basis of the current petitions, all the other challenged provisions of RA 11479 are not unconstitutional.”

Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) Chairperson Jose Manuel “Chel” I. Diokno said his group considers “the decision of the court to strike down the qualifier to the proviso in section 4 of RA 11479 as unconstitutional for being overbroad and for being an infringement of Freedom of Expression as an important win for the protection of civil liberties.”

“The vote (12-3), as contained in the Court’s advisory, sustains FLAG’s position on this issue and affirms the inherent danger posed to civil liberties by the language of the qualifier to the proviso,” Diokno said.

Since the SC has yet to officially release its ruling, Diokno said FLAG reserves “further comment on the Court’s action on the other parts of the ATA.”

Bayan Muna chairperson and former party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares also welcomed “the effort by the High Court to protect our civil and political rights from the overreach of such a draconian and dangerous law.”

“It is also correct for the SC to strike as unconstitutional the supra national provision of the law that allows the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) to declare individuals and groups as terrorist on the mere say so of foreign entities,” Colmenares said.

However, he pointed out that the SC ruling “essentially excluded advocacy, protest, dissent, stoppage of work, industrial or mass action, and other similar exercises of civil and political rights from the scope of the law. It corrects the erroneous and dangerous view of the law’s proponents that equate activism with terrorism.”

He said: “We plan to challenge the Supreme Court’s declaration that almost all the other provisions of the law are not unconstitutional. We believe that it should still strike down other provisions that allow authorities to detain people for up to 24 days without charges, allows the ATC to designate terrorists at will and freeze their assets, allows authorities to detain persons already out on bail incommunicado in the guise of house arrest, and other draconian provisions.”

“Once we get a copy of the full decision, my fellow petitioners and I will most likely file a Motion for Reconsideration to challenge the other provisions that have a devastating effect on human rights and civil liberties,” he added.

National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) President Edre U. Olalia said his group will also “certainly regroup and close ranks and file a motion for reconsideration.”

“We will not allow the dying of the flickering light of our basic rights,” he declared.

Olalia said said the SC ruling sustained the NUPL’s position that “activism and advocacy are legitimate activities and sacred rights of the people and should not be considered as terrorism at all.”

But, he lamented that “all the rest of the perilous provisions like other forms of designation, warrantless arrest, prolonged detention, freezing of assets, proscription, definitions of incitement, recruitment, membership, material support, humanitarian assistance etc. remain in the books, for now.”

For his part, constitutional lawyer and former Ateneo School of Governance Dean Tony La Vina called the tribunal’s decision “a small victory in what is still a big defeat for human rights.”

“The fight — including motions for reconsideration — must now focus on the provisions that affect due process rights and other rights of the accused: arrest and detention, designation by the Anti-Terror Council, freezing of funds, etc.,” he pointed out.