A RETIRED magistrate and a former ombudsman have asked the Supreme Court to stop the government from enforcing its expanded law against terror, joining a slew of voices against the measure that they said could be used to stifle dissent and violate human rights.
In an 86-page petition, retired Supreme Court Justice Antonio T. Carpio and ex-Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales asked the high court to void the law for being illegal.
They were joined by University of the Philippines law professors Jay L. Batongbacal, Dante B. Gatmaytan, Theodore O. Te, Victoria V. Loanzon and Anthony Charlemagne C. Yu, former congressman Francisco Ashley L. Acedillo and student Tierone James M. Santos.
The 11th lawsuit against the Anti-Terrorism Act also asked the tribunal to hold hearings on the suit.
“It is mired by vagueness and overbreadth that repress protected speech, justifying its facial invalidation,” according to a copy of their lawsuit.
The plaintiffs also said an Anti-Terror Council composed of Cabinet members empowered to order the arrest of suspected terrorists was “born out of a brazen violation of the rule on separation of powers.” Only judges may issue arrest warrants, they pointed out.
They also said the arrest of suspected terrorists violates the constitutional requirement of probable cause.
The council is also “outrageously vested with powers greater than what the Constitution has given to the President in extraordinary cases of invasion and rebellion, without the yoke of restrictions to which the President is subject.”
The law, which took effect on July 18, considers attacks that cause death or serious injury, extensive damage to property and manufacture, possession, acquisition, transport and supply of weapons or explosives as terrorist acts.
It also allows the government to keep a suspect in jail without an arrest warrant for 14 days from three days previously.
The law, which repeals the Human Security Act of 2007, also allows the Anti-Money Laundering Council to examine bank deposits that may be related to terrorism and freeze these accounts without a court order.
Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra said the government would draft the rules that will enforce the law. Interior Secretary Eduardo M. Año said they would fast-track the rules even if the law can be enforced without it.
“If there is really a terrorist threat, we have to apply the law,” Mr. Año told an online news briefing. “If there is no big threat, we can wait for the implementing rules and regulations.”
US lawmakers earlier asked the government of President Rodrigo R. Duterte to repeal the law, which they said was a “new weapon” in the administration’s campaign to suppress dissent and will only worsen attacks on ordinary people.
US Representative Janice D. Schakovsky said they sent the appeal through Philippine Ambassador Jose Manuel G. Romualdez.
She said the law was overbroad and was already being used to stifle peaceful dissent and target civil society including human and labor rights groups in the Philippines. She asked American companies in the Philippines to pressure the government to repeal the law.
Rep. Judy M. Chu, also among those who signed the appeal, said the letter was meant to put pressure on the Philippine government.
Senate President Vicente C. Sotto II had said the US lawmakers were “misinformed,” adding that the high tribunal wouldn’t be influenced by the congressional move in deciding on several lawsuits against the Anti-Terrorism law.
A group of Philippine congressmen who filed a separate lawsuit against the law earlier said it violates freedom of speech and the right to privacy because it allows the state to monitor suspects and record communications with a court order.
The lawmakers said the law is replete with unconstitutional provisions and should be nullified as a whole.
Mr. Duterte has defended the law against critics, saying law-abiding citizens have nothing to fear because it targets terrorists including Maoist rebels.
“Don’t be afraid if you don’t plan to destroy the government or bomb the church and public utilities,” he said in Filipino.
His spokesman Harry L. Roque said the law safeguards people’s rights.
A terrorist is someone who tries to harm or kill a person, destroys or damages public or private property, interferes with critical infrastructure, develops, owns, or transports weapons and explosives, and causes fires, floods and explosions, according to the law.
It also provides that protests, advocacy and similar exercises of civil and political rights that don’t seek to harm people are not terror acts.
National Security Adviser Hermogenes C. Esperon on Wednesday said the law strengthens safeguards against violent extremism.
“We will assure you that what we want to accomplish is to defeat terrorists especially foreign terrorists,” he said at an online briefing.
He added the Human Security Act 2007, which the law repealed did not cover foreign terrorist fighters. The new law addresses this especially with radical extremism having become a global concern.
Mr. Esperon said human rights would be protected. “The implementing rules and regulations are important because these will be the operating manual.”
He said pending the rules, the government would appoint Anti-Terrorism Council members trained in counterterroirsm strategies.
The Philippine Foreign Affairs department last week told the US Congress in a letter that the Philippines remained committed to the protection of civil and political liberties as well as human rights.
“The Anti-Terrorism Act itself strongly mandates that human rights be absolute and protected at all times,” it said in the July 16 letter. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas