The Philippine Supreme Court on Thursday, December 9, affirmed the legality of the country’s anti-terrorism law but struck out two provisions for being violative of freedom of expression, among others.
Voting 12-3, the High Court declared as unconstitutional the proviso in Section 4 of Republic Act 11479, or the Anti-Terrorism Act, for being overboard and violative of freedom of expression.
The court said the qualifier “which are not intended to cause death or serious physical harm to a person, to endanger a person’s life, or to create a serious risk to public safety” is against the Constitution.
Also stricken down is the second method for designation under Section 25 of the law that states “Request for designations by other jurisdictions or supranational jurisdictions may be adopted by the ATC after determination that the proposed designee meets the criteria for designation of UNSCR No. 1373.”
The Supreme Court said that other provisions subject to the more than 30 petitions filed before the court “are not unconstitutional.”
“The main ponencia (main decision) and the various opinions contain interpretations of some of the provisions declared in these cases as not unconstitutional,” read a media advisory issued by the country on Thursday.
The Anti-Terrorism Act was signed into law on July 3, 2020, and took effect on July 18. It is the subject of 37 petitions before the Supreme Court, making it the most contentious law to date.
Aside from the 37 petitions, several reiterative motions were also filed by various petitioners after some of its petitioners have been arrested or “red-tagged” by government forces as having ties with leftist groups.
Rights groups ‘dismayed’ over decision
Human rights alliance Karapatan said it was “dismayed” by the court decision to retain the “draconian” provisions of the law.
“The Supreme Court’s decision to adopt repressive provisions will only set to worsen the already dismal human rights situation in the country,” said Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay.
Palabay, one of the law’s petitioners, cited as “vague and overbroad” the definition of “terrorism” in the law, the arbitrary powers of the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) to designate and freeze assets of individuals and organizations, and the long period of warrantless detention.
Palabay said the court’s decision to strike down the qualifier on the exercise of civil and political rights “on its face shows the court’s affirmation that activism is not terrorism.”
She said, however, that the other offenses outlined in the other sections of the law, such as Section 5 or “threat to commit terrorism,” Section 6 or “planning, training, preparing, and facilitating the commission of terrorism,” Section 7 or “conspiracy to commit terrorism,” Section 8 or “proposal to commit terrorism,” and Section 9 or “inciting to commit terrorism” remain “largely vague and susceptible to subjective interpretations and therefore, abuse.”
The Karapatan official also argued that the retention of the ATC’s “arbitrary” power to designate along with the other vague offenses in the Anti-Terrorism Act “can still be used to target dissenters.”
“The ATC’s power to designate individuals and organizations as ‘terrorists’ is not only arbitrary … it has also proven to be deadly,” she said.
In 2018, the Department of Justice petitioned to proscribe over 600 individuals as terrorists under the Human Security Act.
Palabay said at least seven individuals named in that list have been murdered, including human rights worker Zara Alvarez and peace consultants Randy Malayao and Randall Echanis.
“The ATC’s power to designate is a virtual hit list,” she said, adding that ‘being designated as a ‘terrorist’ is essentially a death warrant.”