Senators hail Supreme Court for upholding most of anti-terror law
MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Panfilo Lacson and Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Thursday celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision to leave most of the feared Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 intact, counting it as a win over the 37 groups of petitioners who asked the court to strike down the entire law.
“What the petitioners really wanted was for the law to be declared as unconstitutional…That did not pass in the court,” Lacson, the anti-terror law’s principal sponsor at the Senate and a candidate for the presidency, said partially in Filipino at a press event.
“There was a long debate but by and large, peace won,” he added. “You know the decision of the Supreme Court, in just one sentence? Peace wins over terror.”
“Hail hail the Supreme Court and beware the terrorists,” Sotto, principal author of the law and Lacson’s running-mate, chimed in.
Lacson: Parts of law struck down by SC not important
While petitioners have celebrated the Supreme Court’s striking down of parts of the law as unconstitutional, Lacson said these portions of Section 4 and 25 of the law were “bale wala lang” or unimportant.
The SC in an en banc session on December 7 voted 12-3 to declare as null parts of Section 4 that would have criminalized various modes of dissent and protest if they were undertaken with an intent to harm. The high court’s Public Information Office said that the court voted to declare it as unconstitutional “for being overbroad and violative of freedom of expression.”
The other portion of the law declared unconstitutional by the SC would have allowed the Anti-Terrorism Council to adopt requests for terrorist designation by other jurisdictions or supranational jurisdiction.
“The Supreme Court saw that we are an independent country, we have our own views, we should honor our own processes,” Lacson said.
“We will know by the reactions — who is happy, who is sad, and who is angry — [who] really won. We are happy,” he added. “I, as principal sponsor, am happy with the decision of the Supreme Court.”
Minority senators flag prolonged detention anew
Sen. Francis Pangilinan, one of the petitioners against the law, described the SC’s ruling as a “partial victory” but warned that “the dangerous provisions of the law remain.”
The vice-presidential candidate, along with reelectionist Sens. Risa Hontiveros and Leila de Lima, also reiterated his opposition to the provision in the law allowing prolonged detention.
“While I acknowledge the Supreme Court’s power as the final arbiter of the law, my reasons for voting ‘no’ to the Anti Terror Law when it was being deliberated in the Senate remain,” Hontiveros said in her own statement.
De Lima, in a dispatch from national police headquarters in Camp Crame, where she is detained, welcomed “with much relief, the announcement that [the SC] declared unconstitutional the proviso that would have otherwise made the exercise of free speech a terrorist act.”
“I eagerly would want to know though if they also declared unconstitutional the power of the executive to detain suspects for 24 days even without any suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, which even then only limits detention without charges up to [three] days.”
The heavily-assailed provision was upheld as constitutional by the SC.
“As we await the full decision, we will not rest until we have achieved our goal,” Pangilinan said. “We want a law that will protect the people against terrorism, not one that will terrorize them.”
Only Hontiveros and Pangilinan voted against the anti-terror law’s passage at the Senate. De Lima, a former justice secretary who is also staunchly against the law, has been unable to participate in the chamber’s proceedings since her detention in 2017.
“[L]et me remind those who will implement this law: The Anti-Terror Law does not give you the license to suppress dissent and trample on fundamental rights,” Hontiveros warned. “It is not an excuse to oppress and kill ordinary Filipinos.”
Lacson said he was hopeful that the law would allow the Philippines to drop down the Global Terrorism Index.
The country placed 10th in 2020 with a score of 7.099, equivalent to a “high” impact of terrorism. The Philippines ranked 9th the year prior.
Amid uproar over the law last year, Lacson and Sotto earlier vowed dogged oversight on its implementation.
Sotto assured that the law could be repealed if it led to the abuses that critics fear while Lacson said he would take to the streets alongside protesters.
Hontiveros, too, in her statement Thursday said “[t]he Senate can and will use its oversight functions to protect Filipinos from state-sanctioned abuses and misdeeds.”
But a closer look at the Senate’s track record shows little oversight on rights abuses — with few inquiries held and even fewer reports filed.
Two Aeta farmers were already charged with violating Section 4 of the law in 2020 and had been detained for nearly a year, only for the court to rule later that prosecution evidence was insufficient as the government accusers failed to prove the identities of the farmers as perpetrators of terrorism.
The red-tagging of progressives and dissenters was also raised by the petitioners to the SC but the dangerous practice continued even as their arguments were heard by justices.
Lacson, as chairman of the Senate committee on defense, last year led hearings on red-tagging only to conclude in a committee report that there were sufficient legal remedies for those who fall victim to the practice. The hearings themselves also saw the further red-tagging of left-leaning individuals and groups.
— with reports from Kristine Joy Patag
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
The Supreme Court has deliberated and voted on the controversial Anti-Terrorism Act but the decision will be released “at the soonest time possible.”
“However, considering that there were numerous issues resolved in the case, as well as the fact that each Justice had to vote on each issue, there is a need to accurately confirm and tally the vote of each Justice in order to ensure the correct resolution of the Court per issue,” SC spokesperson Brian Hosaka says.
The Anti-Terrorism Council designates the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, the panel that negotiates for communist rebels during peace talks a terrorist organization.
Previous designation of the Communist Party of the Philippines and New People’s Army led to the designation of supposed members of the CPP’s Central Committee. Among those designated as terorrists were peace consultants.
Designation gives the Anti-Terrorism Council the authority to investigate and freeze the accounts of designated persons.
The Anti-Terrorism Council has designated 29 people, including alleged members of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army, as terrorists in two resolutions.
Designation allows the Anti-Money Laundering Council to freeze the assets of those on the list.
Solicitor General Jose Calida tells the Supreme Court that the Philippines must have an Anti-Terrorism Act because of international obligations.
Calida says “supervening events warrant ouright dismissal of petitions.” He notes there are already cases involving ATA, such as case against farmers Japer Gurung and Junior Ramos, and three individuals in Negros Occidental.
He says petitioners do not have standing to question the law since they are not directly affected by it.
Oral arguments on petitions against the Anti-Terrorism Act will resume on April 27 at 2:30 p.m..
According to a Supreme Court advisory, the arguments will be carried out through videoconferencing due to the pandemic.
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