Petitioners assert to SC: There is no saving anti-terrorism law for its vagueness

Petitioners assert to SC: There is no saving anti-terrorism law for its vagueness
Various groups trooped to Padre Faura in Manila as the Supreme Court held oral arguments on anti-terrorism law petitions.

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 7:28 p.m.) — Petitioners against the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 asserted before the Supreme Court that the law’s definition of terrorism is overly vague that no amount of jurisprudence can save it.

The SC on Tuesday held the highly anticipated oral arguments on the 37 petitions challenging the contentious Republic Act 11479 or Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.

FOLLOW: LIVE: Oral arguments on petitions vs the anti-terrorism law

All the petitions are assailing Section 4 of the law, which defines terrorism. They said the provision is void for its vagueness and is overbroad, which gives authorities unbridled discretion on how to interpret it.

Terrorism as a new, drastic phenomenon

Associate Justice Rosmari Carandang, who was first to interpellate, asked Rep. Edcel Lagman (Albay) on when the word terrorism or the crime of terrorism entered the Philippines statute books.

She then referred to Section 29 of the law, which allows detention of suspected terrorists, without a judicial warrant, of up to 24 days. This, while Article VII Section 18 of the Constitution states that during the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, a person may be arrested and shall be judicially charged within three days, otherwise he will be released.

“Are we safe to say that since terrorism was not in the mind yet or not a crime punishable when the 1987 Constitution was passed, can it not be said that this article on the three-day detention on Habeas Corpus does not strictly apply to acts of terrorism?” the justice asked.

Lagman responded: “We cannot subscribe to that Your Honor because the provision of the Constitution is omnibus. It would cover all possible crimes.”

The lawmaker pointed that this even covers when Martial Law has been declared.

RELATED: Carpio warns: Situation 'worse than martial law' under anti-terrorism law

Carandang pressed that since terrorism is a “new phenomenon” that involves the security of the entire nation, cannot the Congress legislate longer period than what is held in Article 125 of the Revised Penal Code, which provides that authorities must bring detained persons to judicial authority within, at most, 36 hours.

Lagman however stressed that “the Congress cannot derogate the protection of civil liberties and other fundamental freedoms.”

“Congress cannot pass a law against terrorism by derogating civil and political rights safeguarded in the Constitution. But in the case of the ATA, it has put the war against terrorism in a pedestal while it has demoted civil liberties to a footstool,” he added.

Law beyond saving

Senior Associate Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe, during her interpellation, asked Free Legal Assistance Group chairman Chel Diokno whether Section 4 of the law was a “novel creation of the Congress.”

Diokno said Solicitor General Jose Calida claimed that it was patterned after international standards, such as the proposed convention on the international terrorism initially submitted by India to the United Nations in 1996.

But he pointed out that the ATA had significant differences from the said proposed convention, such as the latter mentioning acts that cause death or damage to property, which means actual death and destruction is needed.

In the Philippines’ anti-terrorism law, it punishes acts “intended to” cause death or bodily injury.

Bernabe noted that the Congress is not required to define every word or term when it enacts a penal statute.

Diokno then said that while not every word should be defined, “operative words that give rise to the essential elements of the crime made by congress must be understood.”

Bernabe then gave the petitioners a scenario when a person comes up with a plan to bomb a government infrastructure, provides funds weaponry and plan was later accomplished. "Can this person be both punished under Sec. 6 by facilitating terrorism and Sec. 12 by providing material support? Do you think there is an overlap?"

Diokno replied in the affirmative and noted that the person can also be charged with violation of Section 4 of the law.

Bernabe pressed whether the person may also be held liable under Section 7 of the law which punishes conspiracy to commit terrorism. "So a single act can now be penalized under Sec. 6 facilitation, Sec. 7 conspiracy to commit terrorism, or Sec, 12 providing material support under ATA,"s she asked, and Diokno answered again in the affirmative.

"Can the court clarify the interrelation of these offenses through jurisprudence and also the proper application for criminal prosecution?" Bernabe asked.

Diokno said that while this may be possible for other laws, this is not the case with the Anti-Terrorism Act.

"We submit that as far as this law is concerned even the very nebulous overbroad vague definition of terrorism, we submit that no amount of construction by the court can save it," he added.

Aside from Perlas-Bernabe and Carandang, only Associate Justice Marvic Leonen were able to pose their questions to the petitioners. Solicitor General Calida has also yet to present the government’s defense.

The SC will resume the oral arguments on February 9.

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: January 25, 2021 – 9:01pm

President Rodrigo Duterte signed the Anti-Terrorism Law on July 3 despite opposition from rights groups and civil society groups that it could be used to stifle human rights.

A petition against the law has been filed at the Supreme Court and other groups are preparing pleadings of their own.

Follow this page for updates. Photo courtesy of The STAR/Michael Varcas

January 25, 2021 – 9:01pm

Retired Supreme Court justices Antonio Carpio and Conchita Carpio Morales urge the high court to confirm whether social media post attributed to "Antonio Parlade" is an official communication from the government.

The petitioners ask the SC to direct the Office of the Solicitor General to write an explanation about the post advising the public to be "watchful of groups opposing the anti-terror law.

"Though some portions directly name specific persons, the Post also groups together petitioners as part of 'individuals, groups and organizations' who should be monitored for 'pposing a law that will protect citizens from terrorists,'" the petition read.

January 15, 2021 – 4:25pm

The Supreme Court resets oral arguments on anti-terrorism law petitions to February 2, after Solicitor General Jose Calida said his assistant solicitor general and some staff tested positive for COVID-19. — Joy Patag

October 14, 2020 – 2:35pm

The Anti-Terrorism Council has aproved the Implementing Rules and Regulations for the Anti-Terrorism Law, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra confirms.

The implementing guidelines were crafted by a technical working group led by the DOJ, he also says.

"We will disseminate copies to the Congress and to law enforcement agencies as required under the law, and will publish the IRR online and in a newspaper of general circulation in the next few days," he says.

August 30, 2020 – 12:47pm

Desaparecidos, an organization made up of families of victims of enforced disappearances, is worried that more may go missing under the anti-terrrorism law.

"We fear that Duterte's terror law will enable State forces to resort to extraordinary measures such as abductions and enforced disappearances like what they did to my daughter to instill fear on its critics and activists as the government spins out of control because of the pandemic and the ailing economy," Erlinda Cadapan, Desaparecidos chairperson and mother of missing University of the Philippines student Sherlyn Cadapan, says in a statement.

She says that Section 29 of the Anti-Terrorism Act allows detention without charges for up to 24 days "practically opens up the option for State forces to resort to enforce disappearance rather than complying with legal requirements to detain suspects."

August 25, 2020 – 9:30am

The Free Legal Assistance Group, which represents senators and media practitioners in a petition against the Anti-Terrorism Act, urges the Supreme Court to issue a temporart restraining order against the new law.

The group says the statement of Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Gilbert Gapay to regulate social media is "repression in broad daylight."

"At the very least, the foregoing statements of the AFP Chief of Staff confirm that the ATA is both so overbroad and vague that it is susceptible to being used for an unconstitutional end, that is a weapon against free speech and dissent," the motion read.

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