Karapatan asserts call to #JunkTerrorLaw as SC decision retains draconian provisions

Human rights alliance Karapatan expressed dismay on Thursday over the reported Supreme Court en banc’s decision to retain the “draconian” provisions of Republic Act No. 11479 or the Anti-Terrorism Act, following the court’s deliberations on the 37 petitions filed by various human rights groups, faith-based organizations, youth and student formations, civil libertarians, and concerned individuals which raised various human rights issues regarding the law as the petitioners sought to declare it unconstitutional.

“That the terror law was the most contested law in Philippine history only shows the widespread opposition to this dangerous piece of legislation which directly harms our basic rights and freedoms. The Supreme Court’s decision to adopt repressive provisions — the vague and overbroad definition of ‘terrorism,’ arbitrary powers of the Anti-Terrorism Council to designate and freeze assets of individuals and organizations, and the long period of warrantless detention — will only set to worsen the already dismal human rights situation in the country,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay, one of the petitioners, stated on Thursday.

The Supreme Court’s en banc session voted on the petitions challenging the constitutionality of the Anti-Terrorism Act last Tuesday, December 7, 2021, but the court’s statement on the decision was only released today. The court declared the qualifier to the provision in Section 4 “…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” as “unconstitutional for being overbroad and violative of freedom of expression” with a vote of 12-3.

While Palabay said that the Supreme 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 averred that the other offenses outlined in the following sections 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 second method for designation in Section 25 — “[r]equest for designations by other jurisdictions or supranational jurisdictions” may be adopted by the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) “after determination that the proposed designee meets the criteria for designation” of the United Nations Security Council Resolution No. 1373 — was also declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court with a vote of 9-6. The Karapatan official, however, 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: as pointed out by Associate Justice Benjamin Caguioa during the oral arguments, the process of designation ‘already achieves the purpose of proscription.’ It has also proven to be deadly. In 2018, the Department of Justice petitioned to proscribe over 600 individuals as terrorists under the Human Security Act — and at least seven individuals named in that list have been murdered, including our human rights worker Zara Alvarez and peace consultants Randy Malayo and Randall Echanis,” she said.

“The ATC’s power to designate is a virtual hitlist. Being designated as a ‘terrorist’ is essentially a death warrant. This arbitrary power along with the retention of the 24-day period of warrantless detention in Section 29 are dangerous provisions that would only engender the commission of human rights violations including torture and enforced disappearances under the cover of implementing the terror law. We continue to assert that this draconian law must be junked and declared unconstitutional, and we enjoin all freedom-loving Filipinos to assert this call in the mass actions tomorrow to commemorate the International Human Rights Day,” Palabay ended.