MANILA — The Supreme Court said Tuesday it had consolidated 4 petitions to strike down the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 or parts of it, which some said could be used to target government critics.
All 4 petitions claimed the legislation that President Rodrigo Duterte approved Friday was unconstitutional for infringing on civil liberties. Petitioners also sought a temporary restraining order against use of the law.
"Thus, the Supreme Court ordered the consolidation of the 4 petitions, and required the respondents to file their respective comments on the petition and application for TRO within a period of 10 calendar days from notice," said the high court's Public Information Chief Atty. Brian Keith Hosaka.
The first petition was filed electronically on Saturday by lawyers, civic groups and the De La Salle Brothers, followed Monday by Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, law professors from the Far Eastern University, and lawmakers from the Makabayan bloc.
Named as respondents were the Executive Secretary, the National Security Adviser, some Cabinet secretaries as well as the executive director of the Anti-Money Laundering Council who are part of the Anti-Terrorism Council.
The Makabayan solons impleaded Duterte, while Lagman included the House of Representatives and the Senate.
The legislation would enable Duterte to appoint a council that could authorize warrantless arrests of people it deemed as terrorists.
It also allows for weeks of detention without charge, which the government argues is necessary to combat long-running communist insurgencies and terrorism.
Activists and other sectors say the definition of terrorism in the new law is vague and could strengthen Duterte's campaign against critics. Some are already serving prison sentences or facing jail time after attacking his policies including his drug war that has killed thousands.
The law defines terrorism as intending to cause death or injury, damage to government or private property or use of weapons of mass destruction to "spread a message of fear" or intimidate the government.
Critics allege the legislation also strips away old safeguards, such as penalties against law enforcers for wrongful detention of suspects.
"By signing the anti-terrorism bill into law, President Duterte has pushed Philippines democracy into an abyss," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch.
"The law threatens to significantly worsen the human rights situation in the Philippines, which has nosedived since the catastrophic 'war on drugs' began 4 years ago," Robertson added.
In a report last month, the UN human rights office said at least 8,663 people have been killed in the drug war with "near impunity" for offenders.
Government officials say alarm about the law is overblown, citing provisions that exempt "advocacy, protest, dissent, stoppage of work... not intended to cause death or serious physical harm." With reports from Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News; Agence France-Presse