1987 Constitution framers, Ateneo file 6th petition vs new anti-terror law

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 08 2020 05:37 PM | Updated as of Jul 08 2020 11:11 PM

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MANILA - Two of the framers of the 1987 Constitution are among the 6th batch of petitioners who filed Wednesday a plea seeking to nullify and stop the implementation of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.

Christian Monsod and Felicitas Arroyo, who were part of the 1986 Constitutional Commission that drafted the 1987 Constitution, were joined by professors from the Ateneo and Xavier University and Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (SENTRO) in questioning the new law before the Supreme Court.

OVERBROAD DEFINITION

In their petition, the Constitution framers focused on the broad definition of terrorism under the newly-signed measure that could cover legitimate acts protected under the right to free speech, expression and assembly.

They noted that unlike in the Human Security Act of 2007 where specific crimes were mentioned as constituting acts of terrorism, the new law simply mentions "acts" but does not identify what these acts are. Instead, these acts are punishable if committed with a certain "intent" to cause damage, among others, which according to petitioners, had never been the intention of the law.

"Our criminal law has never punished intent alone. There must always be overt acts which are themselves illegal and which themselves manifest this malicious intent," they said.

They pointed out that the definition of terrorism actually creates a second category -- those who engage in advocacy, protest, dissent, stoppage of work, industrial or mass action, and other similar exercises of civil and political rights," if these activities are "intended to cause death or serious physical harm to a person, or to endanger a person's life, or to create a serious risk to public safety."

This overbroad definition, the petitioners said, could result to prior restraint and could create a chilling effect.

"In effect, lawful exercises of civil and political rights are made criminal--terrorism--when there is some supposedly illegal intent behind them, regardless of whether this intent itself is translated into action," the petitioners said.

"To be sure, terrorism and criminality are both abhorrent and must be deterred. However, the same cannot be done without clear standards and limitations which safeguard the exercise of civil and political rights, lest rogue government forces are given the discretion to halt even these exercises, in the guise of fighting criminality," they said.

UNCONSTITUTIONAL SUPER-BODY

The petitioners also assailed the creation of a "super-body" in the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) with vast powers to designate persons as terrorists and authorize their detention for up to 24 days solely based on suspicion.

Designation of terrorists, on the basis of ATC's own determination of probable cause, poses the risk of immediate arrest, detention and even freezing of assets without a court order.

The petitioners said this violates due process because those arrested are not given the opportunity to be heard, nor are there safeguards to allow them to contest the decision of the ATC.

They also contend that this would violate a person's constitutional right to be protected against unreasonable search and seizure, as well as the constitutional provision limiting to up to 3 days the maximum detention without charge even at a time when the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus is suspended.

In addition, in allowing the ATC to authorize warrantless arrests, petitioners said Section 25 of the Anti-Terrorism Act infringes on the power of the Judiciary to determine probable cause for the issuance of warrants of arrests.

"[W]hile the ATA does not use the term "warrant of arrest", the written authority issued by the ATC to take custody of a person upon being suspected of commission of certain acts is practically the same thing. It is therefore plainly unconstitutional, as it encroaches on a power reserved by the Constitution to the courts...," they argued.

To highlight the gravity of the situation, the petitioners said that had the sedition complaint against Vice President Leni Robredo, former Senator Antonio Trillanes IV and dozens more been filed pursuant to the Anti-Terrorism Act, they would have immediately been arrested without warrant and detained up to 24 days. The Anti-Money Laundering Council could also have frozen their assets, when most of the respondents were eventually cleared a few months later.

Only Trillanes and 10 others were charged for conspiracy to commit sedition in February this year over the viral "Ang Totoong Narco-list" where a hooded figure accused the Presidential family of involvement in illegal activities.

The hooded figure, Bikoy, who later surfaced as Peter Joemel Advincula, was also indicted, even though his statement was the sole basis for the charge.

Among those charged was Fr. Albert Alejo who is part of the Supreme Court petition against the Anti-Terrorism Act.

Specifically, the petitioners want the Supreme Court to declare the following provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Act unconstitutional: sections 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14, 25, 29.

1987 CONSTITUTION FRAMERS SPEAK UP

Seven 1987 Constitution framers earlier issued a statement condemning the law signed by President Rodrigo Duterte last Friday.

"We, Framers, believe that we do not need another law against terrorism at this time when in fact we have sufficient laws that can thwart terrorists and acts of terrorism," they said in a statement signed by Monsod, Arroyo, Teodoro Bacani, Florangel Rosario Braid, Edmundo Garcia and Bernardo Villegas.

The group warned against falling into a slippery slope to authoritarianism.

"It is thus time for candor -- that we have a weakened system of checks and balances, that public office has been used to settle personal scores, that we have a poor record of exacting accountability from those tasked to implement our laws as in the Extra-Judicial Killings. And now may also be a good time to ask ourselves whether in fact we are an object lesson in the failure of leadership in the Executive and in the forces of public order," they said.

"We condemn this Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 which brings us back to the 1970s. We need to move forward, not backwards. We need to focus on what truly ails our people in their struggle for survival, while we deal with an inadequate public health system, mass poverty, gross inequalities, and not squander this unique opportunity of coming together as a people in the time of the pandemic," they said.

On Monday, four groups filed separate petitions against the new law, while Duterte's former appointee to the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel filed another petition Wednesday morning.

ABS-CBN sources say more than 15 petitions in all may be filed against the said law.