HomeCommentaryPhilippine anti-terrorism law can be worse than martial law

Philippine anti-terrorism law can be worse than martial law

The anti-terrorism bill now under review by the Department of Justice before it is signed into law by President Rodrigo Duterte is again under fire from another former justice of the Supreme Court, bringing to at least three former members of the High Tribunal who have raised serious doubts about its constitutionality.

Retired Associate Justice Vicente V. Mendoza, in an article for a leading daily broadsheet, said the proposed law is “hard to understand. A criminal statute must be clearly and precisely drawn so that it can give adequate guidance to those concerned.”

Mendoza explained: “Section 4 is the heart of the proposed law. It must state what terrorism is and who are guilty of it in clear and precise terms…. The fact is that Section 4 badly needs rewriting. A statute whose terms are so vague that persons of common understanding must necessarily guess at its meaning or differ as to its application offends due process. And a statute that sweeps unnecessarily broadly both prohibited and protected conduct is overbroad and likewise offends due process.”

Earlier, retired Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio declared: “The Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 is likely to lead to a ‘permanent situation in the Philippines that is worse than martial law.'”

Why? One, the proposed measure “demolishes fortresses” in the Constitution that protect the “inviolable” right against unreasonable arrest. Under the present Constitution, only a judge can issue a warrant of arrest. This ‘fortress’, he said, must be inviolable. The Anti-Terrorism Act will demolish the first ‘fortress’ and reinstate the dreaded ASSOs (arrest, search and seizure orders) of the Marcos era.

Two, the power granted to the Anti-Terrorism Council, whose members will all come from the executive department, to order arrests without court warrant also “demolishes” the constitutional guarantee that probable cause must first be established as a requisite to the issuance of a warrant.

And three, the proposed measure, in its current form, will threaten the freedom of speech and of the press in the 2022 presidential elections. While the Human Security Act of 2007 provides for the automatic suspension of the law one month before the elections, and two months after, the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 does not have such provision.

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The respected former jurist concludes: “If we do not want to experience a contraction of our civil liberties, we must all work to have the objectionable provisions in the Anti-Terrorism Act invalidated by the Supreme Court or repealed by Congress. Vigilance is the price of freedom.”

Former Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno had also slammed the proposed measure: “(Its proximity to) Proclamation No. 1081 signed in 1972 by then President Marcos uncannily recalls for me the dark days of Marcos’ martial law. Our people must keep in mind that not a single claim of the long-term benefits of that martial law regime has been validated by the Supreme Court,” Sereno noted.

These are cogent reasons for right-thinking citizens to make known their stand against this proposed law that we think would further undermine the foundations of our democratic system.

No one wants the government to ignore the threat posed by terrorists belonging to the Abu Sayyaf, Maute Group, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, all of whom have pledged allegiance to the barbaric and brutal Islamic State.

If the proposed law is aimed mainly at disbanding these groups, then there would be no problem with it. But the fear of many is that it would include within its coverage even those who would dare criticize the present dispensation precisely by an overly broad and vague definition of a “terrorist.”

Rabid supporters of the present dispensation assert that “only terrorists will be afraid of the Anti-Terrorism Act.” But as Carpio has warned, if it would throw out the window the bill of rights guaranteed by our Constitution, then it should be exposed for what it is: a clear and present danger to our democracy.

We distinctly recall the late Sen. Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr., on at least two occasions when he guested at a weekly news forum in Quezon City, telling media that Filipinos should not hesitate to speak out against human rights abuses and corruption in our midst.

Were he alive today, Nene Pimentel would probably be in the frontline of opposition to the controversial bill that would effectively curtail the untrammeled exercise of our civil and political rights.

From another direction, speaking at the commemoration of the late Cardinal Jaime Sin’s 15th death anniversary on June 21, Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan said the times underscore the need for brave prophets who are prepared to be unpopular in reminding the people of the demands of justice and truth.

The prelate extolled Cardinal Sin who stood up and spoke out against martial law and the excesses of the Marcos regime and was among those who led People Power in 1986 that sent the dictator fleeing into exile and restored democracy after 14 years of one-man rule.

“We need prophets who will proclaim the truth with courage, who will proclaim the truth even if it means difficulty or even death…The bottom line is, where there is no courage, there will be no prophets. Where faith is absent, there will be no prophets.”

A timely and appropriate reminder to Filipinos, we think, at a time when there’s deep division in the country amid a discernible and worrisome trend towards authoritarian rule.

Ernesto M. Hilario writes on political and social justice issues for various publications in the Philippines. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of LiCAS.news.

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