The Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC) will publish today its designation of certain individuals as terrorists, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon informed the Supreme Court on Wednesday.
Esperon made the disclosure during the continuation of the oral arguments on the 37 petitions challenging the constitutionality of Republic Act 11479 or Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) of 2020, where he was asked by Associate Justice Rosmari Carandang about the list.
However, Esperon declined to divulge the names of those who will be designated so as not to preempt the ATC’s announcement on Thursday.
“Your Honor, I don’t want to preempt the Anti-Terrorism Council because I have yet to see the publication today for tomorrow of persons connected with the CPP-NPA. There is a resolution of the Anti-Terrorism Council but until we have published these in local papers, we will not name them publicly,” Esperon told Carandang.
Meanwhile, the ATA is not void for vagueness or overbreadth, retired chief justice Reynato Puno said.
In a position paper, the former top magistrate, who was appointed by the Supreme Court as amicus curiae (friend of the court) in oral arguments on petitions questioning the ATA, said that while the petitioners have legal standing to challenge the law, it cannot be struck down for being vague or overly broad.
Puno said a court must take an “extra cautious approach” before it annuls a law on the ground of vagueness or overbreadth, noting that this is the “most difficult challenge to mount successfully” because it must be established “that there can be no instance when the assailed law may be valid”.
“Courts set high barriers before allowing these challenges based on vagueness or overbreadth to succeed,” Puno said. “The petitioners failed to discharge this heavy burden.”
Esperon said the ATC has come up with a resolution to designate several individuals with links to the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) as terrorists.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, who is part of the ATC, said the designation of any individual as a terrorist “will lead to freezing of assets.”
Department of Justice Undersecretary Adrian Sugay said the ATC would publish the names of individuals designated as terrorists but begged off from giving other information.
“Let us wait for the list to be published in due deference to the ATC. And yes, designation by the ATC is for the purpose of freezing assets,” Sugay said.
Under the ATA, the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) may issue a freeze order valid only for 20 days on the financial assets of individuals designated as terrorists.
This may be extended for a period not exceeding six months by the Court of Appeals.
Esperon then played a two-minute video of Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Maria Sison wherein he could be heard mentioning the names of 18 organizations whom he called “allied organizations.”
He also played a 1987 video of Sison supposedly naming the legal organizations in the supposed National Democratic Revolution.
“The master red-tagger is no other than Jose Maria Sison. We are merely informing the public, this is of course what we call truth tagging for purposes of public information so that we will not be misled by this movement or triad of the Communist Party of the Philippines, the New People’s Army, and the National Democratic Front,” Esperon stressed.
According to the National Security Adviser, the communist-led armed rebellion is behind 60 percent of all violent acts committed in the country, earning for the Philippines the 10th place ranking in the Global Index of Terrorism in 2018 and 2019.
Earlier, Solicitor General Jose Calida said the Philippines was the only country in Southeast Asia to be included in the top ten ranking of the Global Index of Terrorism, adding that the country was grouped in the ranking with Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Nigeria.
“Our campaign must be to totally eradicate the scourge to the nation of this armed rebellion, not just to downgrade it,” Calida said, adding that membership in communist parties in other parts of the globe such as in Europe is no problem since they do not have an armed component such as the NPA.
Prodded by Carandang as to the difference of the 2007 Human Security Act with the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 that petitioners led by former vice president Jejomar Binay, retired SC Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, and former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales want nullified, Esperon said the former is “more concerned on protecting terrorists and not on giving law enforcers the right tools to defeat terrorism.”
He cited as an example the provision in the 2007 HSA imposing a fine of P500,000 a day for wrongful arrest and detention, a provision that is not now found in the Anti-Terrorism Act.
“It became a disincentive to our officers though it was a safeguard, but it prevented law enforcement people from doing their act because they don’t know where to get the said amount. Do we get it from our salary or from our organization?” Esperon said.
He added that many operating units of the military and the police do not have that kind of operating funds.
When asked by Carandang if that is the only reason for the government to pass the Anti-Terrorism Act, Esperon said the controversial measure is also needed to address the danger posed by foreign terrorists and foreign terrorist financing.
“We have to come up with a new law since terrorism is now becoming more dynamic, we have to address foreign terrorists and their financing. We believe that the anti-terrorism law is more appropriate for this time,” he said.
Esperon said even with the 2007 HSA, the Philippines has one of the weakest anti-terrorism laws in the region, if not the world.
Puno further argued that challenges on the constitutionality of a law grounded on vagueness or overbreadth offer “too strong a medicine to cure an imagined malignancy” in a law duly passed by Congress and approved by the President.
“With due respect to the petitioners, I respectfully submit that their valiant efforts fall short to justify striking down the whole Anti-Terror Law as unconstitutional on its face on the ground of vagueness or overbreadth,” he said.
Puno explained that an overly broad law could be struck down if it has a chilling effect on speech, and it is highly susceptible to selective enforcement.
The former chief justice said a law can be struck down for vagueness if the conduct it forbids is so unclearly defined that persons of common intelligence have to guess at its meaning and differ as to its application.
The proscription against vagueness is demanded by the due process requirement that people should be given fair notice of what conduct is prohibited, Puno said.
However, he noted that there can be subsequent challenges to the constitutionality of the law on an applied basis, where the enforcement of the law on specific individuals and specific acts can be better inquired into by the courts.
The petitioners challenged the constitutionality of the Anti-Terrorism Act for its definition of terrorism, which according to a group of petitioners led by former SC magistrate Carpio “suffers from serious ambiguity and overbreadth that enables malicious criminal prosecution of innocent rights-holders.”
Under the ATA, a person commits terrorism when engaging in acts that intend to endanger someone or to damage public or private property, and certain other actions when the purpose is any of the following: intimidate the public, the government, or any international organization; create an atmosphere of or spread a message of fear; seriously destabilize or destroy the fundamental political-economic or social structures of society, and create a public emergency or seriously undermine public safety.
In yesterday’s proceeding, the justices led by Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo finished their interpellation of the Office of the Solicitor General represented by Assistant Solicitor General Marissa Dela Cruz-Galandines and Raymund Rigodon.
The ninth round of the oral arguments with the justices to continue their questioning of Esperon will proceed on Monday, May 17.