Karapatan urges SC anew to junk terror law amid worsening attacks vs petitioners

Photo by Aaron Favila/Associated Press

In a joint motion for reconsideration filed before the Supreme Court today, petitioners renewed calls to declare the Anti-Terrorism Act unconstitutional as they raised the worsening red-tagging and attacks against them and their organizations, such as the recent killing of Lumad school volunteer teacher Chad Errol Booc and four others in New Bataan, Davao de Oro. Booc is also one of the petitioners assailing the constitutionality of the law.

“All the foregoing, we plead as one the Honorable Court — without prejudice to the submission of separate or supplemental motions or pleadings by respective Petitioners — to revisit and to take an even closer look particularly on the critical questions and issues of a perfidious legislation that transgresses the Constitution and terrifies, torments and terrorizes its own people,” the joint motion for reconsideration urged.

The motion particularly asserted the unconstitutionality of Section 10, which provides penalties for the recruitment to and membership in a proscribed terrorist organization, for being vague and overbroad, the Anti-Terrorism Council’s (ATC) power to arbitrarily designate individuals and organizations as well as to issue arrest warrants under Section 25, as well as the expansion of the period of warrantless detention for terror suspects to a maximum of 24 days as outlined under Section 29.

Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay, one of the petitioners, warned, that “these vague provisions on membership and recruitment, the ATC’s arbitrary designation powers, and expanding the period of warrantless detention are not only unconstitutional: they are the terror law’s most dangerous and draconian provisions which infringe on our basic rights and freedoms, enable red-tagging, and engender Marcosian atrocities and abuses such as torture, enforced disappearances, even killings.”

The motion further said that “[c]oncrete facts and abundant experience show that the practice of red-tagging has in many instances preceded the extrajudicial killings of activists and human rights defenders, the latest apparent victim being one (1) of the petitioners,” referring to Booc, who was massacred by the military along with fellow volunteer teacher Gelejurain Ngujo II, community health worker Elgyn Balonga, and their two drivers as they were returning to Davao City after conducting research work.

“Like many of us petitioners, Chad Booc has been relentlessly red-tagged, and now, he is being paraded as a ‘terrorist’ slain in an ‘encounter.’ The Supreme Court recognized in its decision the credible threat of injury against us for being targets of red-tagging — and it is now even clearer that being red-tagged is a death sentence, and these threats are far more perilous now that the terror law is in place. Will the Supreme Court wait for another petitioner to be killed before it acts?” Palabay asked.

The Supreme Court, in its decision on the petitions, “[found] that petitioners have sufficiently alleged the presence of a credible threat of injury for being constant targets of ‘red-tagging’ or ‘truth tagging’” as it cited the ATC’s designation of petitioner and peace consultant Rey Casambre, and the freezing of the assets of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP), another petitioner, on accusations of terrorist financing under the Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act.

The Supreme Court also noted in its decision National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., also the vice chairperson of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), playing an “unverified and unauthenticated” video during the oral arguments on the petitions which purportedly enumerated the various organizations supporting armed rebellion — many of whom are among the petitioners seeking to declare the Anti-Terrorism Act unconstitutional.

Following the earlier designations of the Communist Party of the Philippines, the New People’s Army, and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, the ATC has also designated as 16 supposed “underground organizations” as “terrorist groups” via Resolution No. 28 dated January 26, 2022, supposedly freezing their assets. The Karapatan official, however, asked: “what assets are the ATC freezing in designating these ‘underground organizations?’”

“Esperon’s pronouncements make it clear, however, that the actual intent of these designations is not to go after the communist armed movement: instead, they are using these designations to further the ATC and the NTF-ELCAC’s red-tagging campaign. The NTF-ELCAC has already started to freeze the assets of RMP and other personalities and organizations through baseless accusations of ‘terrorist financing’ — and these designations set a dangerous pretext for a crackdown on civil society,” Palabay averred.

“As long as the terror law remains in place, we fear we can only expect more of these attacks and red-tagging to escalate and worsen, and even claim more lives. As we join the other petitioners in filing this joint motion for reconsideration, we implore the Supreme Court to act now. We call on our judges to uphold our basic rights and freedoms, and to stand with the people in the urgent call to junk the terror law,” she ended.