SC oral arguments on ‘terror law’: Karapatan expresses support to petitioners’ lawyers, firmly stands with Aetas victimized

Days before the Supreme Court oral arguments on the broadly opposed Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, human rights group Karapatan expressed its support for the “best human rights lawyers in the country” who will represent those who filed the 37 petitions opposing the “insidious law that clearly violates civil and political liberties of Filipinos.”

On Tuesday, January 19, at least 6 months since the law took effect, 13 lawyers - seven lawyers with six alternates - will present the oral arguments on behalf of the petitioners.

“We express our full support to the 13 lawyers who will bravely troop to the Supreme Court on Tuesday to present our strong opposition to the terror law, a draconian law which institutionalizes State terrorism and all-out crackdown against critics,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said.

In a manifestation filed on behalf of all the petitioners, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines named lawyers Jose Anselmo Cadiz, Randall Tabayoyong, Chel Diokno, Ted Te, John Molo, Evalyn Ursua, Josa Deinla, Neri Colmenares, Ephraim Cortez, Edcel Lagman, Howard Calleja, Algamar Latiph, and Bantuas Lucman as representatives to the oral arguments. Karapatan is among the petitioners, with the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers as their counsels. 

The group, in reiterating its opposition against the law, stated its support for the two Aeta farmers in Zambales who are considered to be the first victims of the “terror law”. In a report to Karapatan, Jay Garung and Junior Urbano are presently imprisoned for allegedly violating the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.

According to Palabay, the imprisonment of the two Aetas came after six days of illegal detention and torture: “They were only tending their farm when they decided to leave after hearing gunshots and explosions during an alleged encounter in Zambales, but soldiers who saw them while evacuating due to imminent danger accused them of being members of the New People’s Army.”

“They were held captive for six days. Garung and Urbano, along with Manuel Ramos, Sr., cousin of the former’s in-law, were blindfolded, tied and beaten, and suffocated with plastic bags and the smoke of a cigarette while they were interrogated by the military men. Their families had no contact with them within six days. Garung also narrated how feces was forced into his mouth in a bid to make him admit that he has a gun,” she said.

The Karapatan official said that the story of the two Aetas in Zambales and of the activists who were harassed and persecuted by the Duterte regime even before the enactment of the law proves that it has serious implications for the Filipino people.

“We call on the Supreme Court to heed our call to declare the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 unconstitutional. We reiterate that the law encroaches upon Filipinos’ fundamental and constitutional rights. With the intensified and harmful vilification of dissenters, especially those part of human rights and progressive groups, it is extremely important that we assert rights and liberties we have fought for,” Palabay said.

Photo by Boy Santos/PhilStar