Karapatan urges SC to nullify ‘unconstitutional’ terror bill

In a petition filed through electronic means before the Supreme Court today, July 19, Karapatan Chairperson Elisa Tita Lubi and Secretary General Cristina Palabay joined other human rights victims and advocates, civil libertarians, and representatives of people’s organizations in assailing the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, calling on the nullification of the recently-signed law, and in appealing before the High Court to declare the law unconstitutional for it “insidiously encroaches upon fundamental and constitutional rights, such arbitrary deprivation of the right to life, liberty and property and the non-observance of the right to due process and to presumption of innocence.”

Palabay, who is among the many petitioners who questioned the constitutionality of the Anti-Terrorism Act, asserted that “along with the law’s glaring unconstitutionality, the removal of the human rights safeguards present in the already draconian Human Security Act of 2007 is already a glaring indication of what the law is for: it is nothing more than a bid for the Duterte administration to legalize State terrorism and the abuse of State powers for an all-out crackdown on dissent.”

President Rodrigo Duterte signed the Anti-Terrorism Act on July 3, and took effect yesterday, July 18 despite staunch opposition from a broad range of groups and forces from the academe, lawyers and the legal community, business groups, artists, religious, media, athletes, personalities, and United Nations (UN) officials and bodies. Karapatan had earlier written a letter to the Department of Justice, urging the department to recommend the veto of the measure. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, in her report on the human rights situation in the Philippines, expressed concern that the Anti-Terrorism Act “dilutes human rights safeguards [and] broadens the definition of terrorism” such that these “vague definitions… may violate the principle of legality.”

“[The Anti-Terrorism Act] is a classic example of a purported cure being worse than the disease it seeks to remedy. For in seeking to stamp out the evil of so-called ‘terrorism,’ the statute seeks to enfeeble the democratic structures of the Constitution, such that its libertarian guarantees devolve into mere husks of hortatory rhetoric. Such is how the virus of authoritarianism spreads: first, a threat of harm, then an appeal to fear; then an offer of succor in shallow security, and; finally, with the host blindsided, the hostage of democracy,” the petition read.

The petitioners are represented by the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers President Edre Olalia, Secretary General Ephraim Cortez, Spokesperson Josalee Deinla, and Women and Children Committee Head Kathy Panguban, assisted by Angelo Guillen, Rene Estocapio, Melanie Pinlac, Hilton Lazo and Frank Tiongson. With the Supreme Court’s closure from Monday, July 20, to Wednesday, July 22, the petition will be physically filed before the Supreme Court on Thursday, July 23. 

“Make no mistake: the Anti-Terrorism Act is the final puzzle piece in Duterte’s de facto martial law. Its passage has serious and far-reaching implications not only on the work of human rights defenders but also the public who stands to be terrorized by this law. We have already seen how government officials have painted and vilified anyone who opposed the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Act as ‘terrorists’ or ‘terrorist sympathizers’ as well as the massive red-tagging of progressive groups. We cannot let this continue. We cannot let this fascist regime take away our hard-won rights and freedoms. We strongly urge the Supreme Court to listen to — and to stand with — the people by nullifying the Anti-Terrorism Act,” the Karapatan officer ended.