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Saturday, July 13, 2024

The ‘terror law’

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The ‘terror law’With the publication of its Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR), the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) can now be implemented. This, despite the at least 34 petitions filed by various groups and personalities with the Supreme Court (SC) challenging the law’s constitutionality. Unless and until the SC issues a temporary restraining order (TRO) or declares the ATC unconstitutional, the law will continue to be implemented.

According to some lawyers and legislators, the ATC for all intents and purposes brings back the repealed anti-subversion law in a more repressive way. Before this law, it was no longer illegal to be a member of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). The use of armed struggle remained (and remains) illegal though.

With the ATL, the powerful Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) can now tag persons and organizations as terrorists on mere suspicion. So-called “terrorists” may be subjected to warrantless arrests and detained for an extended period of up to 24 days even if no case is filed against them. The Courts no longer need to be involved until a case is filed against suspected terrorists.

Before, suspects could only be held without a case for at most three days and they should be set free. Also, warrantless arrests could only be done when a crime has just been, or about to be committed. The ATA has changed these which can probably result in curtailing people’s constitutionally guaranteed rights.

Recently, it has been announced that a list of suspected “terrorists” will be made public by the ATC. This is based on Section 25 of the ATA that empowers the ATC to designate individuals or groups as terrorists upon a finding of probable cause that they have committed, are attempting to commit, or are conspiring in acts of terrorism. The law and the IRR do not define “probable cause” is. This is quite dangerous since there may be no need for an explanation from the ATC on why people and groups are designated as terrorists.

The ATC has recently announced that a list of “designated terrorists” will be made public soon. Those in the list have not been given the chance to clear their names before they are publicly designated as terrorists. The Department of Justice (DOJ) defended the absence of such hearing because one, there will be a process of delisting after, and two, it will defeat the purpose of freezing the assets of those who will be designated if they will be forewarned.

The ATA IRR describes a process of delisting. A “designated terrorist” may apply for delisting within fifteen (15) days of being designated. However, the IRR does not prescribe a timetable within which an application should be decided with finality. This means that the process can take along time.

One major effect of being a “designated terrorist” is the freezing of one’s assets. Imagine if a person is wrongly designated and his/her only assets are his/her life savings?

Imagine the terror that one would feel if one finds out that s/he is a “designated terrorist”? Imagine the terror of families if one of them is included in the list? The possibilities beyond the freezing of assets are indeed terrifying. Warrantless arrests and detention for at most 24 days without a case, thereby rendering even the Courts ineffective to help, are worrisome. Imagine what abusive authorities can do within this allowable period of detention.

Red tagging has been going on for some time now. Even personalities such as actresses and models who are merely advocating for women’s rights are red-tagged. It is highly probable that this will even intensify. With the unclear provisions of the law and with the way this administration is known to have been going after its critics, is it possible for ordinary citizens who are critical of government be red-tagged? Or worse, become designated terrorists?

If those advocating for women’s rights can be red-tagged, what about social media posts that are critical of government officials, or the military and the police? Can netizens calling out government and exacting accountability from public servants be red-tagged? What if journalists write about and support the advocacies of personalities or organizations that are designated as terrorists—can they be considered as conspirators in terrorism?

There are too many questions that are left hanging.

Because of the repressive provisions and possible abuses, the Anti-Terrorism Act is terrorizing the citizenry. The chilling effect of this law is real. Critics can be silenced and the media can be tamed. In the hands of abusive implementers of the law, the possibility of ordinary people getting arrested and detained without cause is there. The democratic space is getting narrower. The Filipino citizens’ rights and freedoms are seriously threatened.

The worst result of the ATA may be a repressed, cowed, and scared Filipino citizenry. This is very dangerous. The very soul of our democratic way of life is under attack. Saving our democracy is in the hands of the Supreme Court. All democratic-loving citizens must work so the SC would declare this terror law unconstitutional.

@bethangsioco on Twitter Elizabeth Angsioco on Facebook


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