MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang is leaving it to the Supreme Court to decide on the legal challenge against the controversial Anti-Terrorism Law, which critics fear will violate human rights and stifle free expression.
"We will leave it to the Supreme Court to decide on the petition and we will abide by the court's decision," presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in a text message Sunday when asked to comment on the petition questioning the legality of the measure.
"(We) will allow (the) court to decide. (I) can't comment because of sub judice rule," he added.
Jurisprudence defines sub judice rule as one that “restricts comments and disclosures pertaining to judicial proceedings to avoid prejudging the issue, influencing the court, or obstructing the administration of justice.”
President Rodrigo Duterte signed the Anti-Terrorism Bill last Friday, a move that Malacañang said demonstrates the administration's "serious commitment" to stamp out terrorism.
The following day, a group of lawyers and civic leaders challenged the legality of the law before the high court, calling it “oppressive" and "inconsistent” with the Constitution.
The petitioners asked the high court to declare as null and void provisions defining terms; enumerating acts of terrorism; punishing persons who threaten to commit acts of terrorism, incite others to commit terrorism through speeches, writings, proclamations, banners or other representations, and recruit people to join terrorist groups; and allowing the police and military to secretly wiretap, read, record, or collect private commmunication, data or messages between members of terrorist organizations or persons charged with committing crimes defined in the law.
They also challenged the legality of provisions on the requisites for the appellate court's issuance of a written order to conduct surveillance activities; designation of individuals and groups as terrorists and terrorism financers; proscription of terrorist organizations; and pre-trial detention of suspected terrorists; and the provision mandating the justice department and the Anti-Terrorism Council to promulgate the implementing rules and regulations of the law.
The petitioners include law professor Howard Calleja, lawyers Joseph Peter Calleja, University of the Philippines law professor Christopher John Lao and Reynaldo Echavez, Napoleon Siongco, Raeyan Reposar, Bro. Armin Luistro of the De La Salle Brothers and civic groups Tunay na Bayani and Bagong Siklab Pilipinas.
Other groups have also announced plans to ask the Supreme Court to invalidate the law.
The justice department has described the filing of the petition as a "positive development," saying it provides all parties the appropriate forum for the resolution of the issues surrounding the law.
Officials have expressed support for the signing of the measure, saying it is necessary to combat the security threats hounding the country.
"As the Philippines is heavily afflicted by terrorism, as reflected in its ranking in the Global Terrorism Index of 2019, the Duterte administration stands with a firm position of undertaking stricter measures against terrorists, including foreign ones, while maintaining the respect for human rights as we have ensured safeguards against abuse," Presidential Communications secretary Martin Andanar said in a statement.
"With the law, a more discerning mechanism is in place to prevent and deter the threats and dangers posed by terrorists to the Filipino people," he added.
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